Exactly halfway through the shortened 2012-13 season, the Islanders are entrenched in the battle for one of eight Eastern Conference playoff spots.
At 10-11-3, they sit just three points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers. Partially the result of a shortened season and partially due to parody, 10 teams are within seven points of one another in the Eastern Conference standings. While the Islanders are still technically on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, center John Tavares believes the group is poised to make a push toward their first postseason appearance since 2007.
“We’re still right in the thick of things just like many other teams,” Tavares said. “We know that we can still be a lot better. We haven’t been as consistent as we would like to be. We haven’t really sustained momentum when we have been successful and we have to be better on home ice. So there’s still a lot to do better in the second half here.”
The Islanders are learning to battle through adversity to win tight hockey games. They allowed a game-tying goal in the third period Tuesday against the first-place Montreal Canadiens, but kept on the gas pedal to score three over the final period en route to a 6-3 win.
While forward Josh Bailey recognizes the squad is making strides toward being a perennial playoff team, he also acknowledges that their performance in many games has come up short.
“We had another game like that against the Rangers as well,” Bailey said, referring to the Feb. 14 game in which the Islanders overcame a two-goal deficit to win. “I think there’s been a few examples of that. But ultimately I think the games like last night you have to find a way to win. Those are tight, playoff-type games. You’re not going to win them all, but you can’t be satisfied when you lose either.”
While Tavares and co. feel like they left points on the table after leading 1-0 in the third period of Thursday’s 2-1 overtime loss against the Rangers, Head Coach Jack Capuano was pleased by his team’s effort.
“We were relentless, we had a lot of passion and emotion on the bench last night, and that was a real positive sign,” Capuano said. “For 55 minutes we were right there. I think if anything we learned we can really play with some of the top teams in the league. A lot of people picked Pittsburgh, or the Rangers or Boston to come out of the Eastern Conference this year. We’ve played pretty well against those teams.”
With wins against Ottawa and Montreal bookended by overtime losses to Toronto and the Rangers, the Islanders are riding a four-game points streak. Bailey believes that the bar has been raised in the room. What may have passed for an acceptable performance in years past is no longer good enough.
“We’re starting to get a winning feeling in here,” Bailey said. “When you get that you want to keep it rolling. Last night was tough, but obviously we want to turn that back around Saturday. I think the biggest thing that we focus on is our game and going out and putting together a full 60 minutes and working as hard as we can.”
In three of the past four seasons, the Islanders started the season’s second half at least 10 points out of eighth place. With all 24 games ahead coming against Eastern Conference teams, Capuano stressed the added urgency for the Islanders to perform at their highest level every night.
“Our guys realize that every game is like a game seven,” Capuano said. “You’ve got to win your shift, you’ve got to do the little things. It doesn’t get any easier with the competition we play. We’ve got to continue to make sure that we’re the hardest working team every night.”
The team hopes getting back to .500 with a win in Saturday’s matinee contest against the Washington Capitals will be the first step to an exciting playoff push. The puck drops on the second half of the season at 1:00 p.m. at the Coliseum.