With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Islanders currently find themselves in the playoff picture as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Four points separate sixth place from 10th place in the East, making every game crucial as the standings shuffle on a nightly basis.
Thursday’s contest against Boston is the kind of test the Islanders have been looking forward to. The 25-9-4 Bruins are one of two teams on the schedule that the Islanders have not yet beaten. Boston won the first two games of the three-game season series, 4-2 at TD Garden on Jan. 25 and 4-1 on Long Island on Feb. 26.
More than a month removed from their last game against the Bruins, the Islanders have been playing their best hockey in recent weeks. They are in the midst of a 7-1-1 run, including a four-game winning streak at home. The game against the Bruins could serve as a litmus test for how the Islanders might fair against some of the league’s top teams.
“We know they’re a good team,” Moulson said. “If you want to make the playoffs and go deep in the postseason, you‘ve got to beat good teams. We know that. This will be a good challenge for us.”
Islanders captain Mark Streit knows that the current Islanders team, while made up of much of the same personnel as it was on the season’s first day, has evolved over the course of the shortened season into a different group.
“We’ve come a long way,” Streit said. “We went through a process. We’re playing better hockey. We’re more confident. I think all the lines can score goals. Defensively, we’re playing tight. We’ve just got to keep doing the things we’ve done lately.”
Of the eight games remaining on the schedule, six will be on the road, where the Islanders are 11-5-2 this season. Thursday’s game is the last road contest not a part of the marathon five-game, eight-day trip that concludes the regular season. While playing away from home is inherently tougher than on home ice, Moulson believes the team has enough momentum that they can overcome the hostile atmosphere of TD Garden.
“I think we have played well here this previous bunch of games,” Moulson said. “It’s going to be an intense battle. Obviously we’re making a push here and every two points are important. I feel like we’ve been playing a smart, hard game, and it’s going to be no different against these guys. They’re obviously a very good team. We’ll have to bring our best.”
Even though Boston has all but locked up a postseason berth with a 12-point buffer on ninth place Winnipeg, the Bruins are one point back of Northeast Division leader and current No. 2 seed Montreal, with one game in hand.
Oddly enough, while the Islanders are already in Beantown preparing for the game, the Bruins are in the NY/NJ metro area for Wednesday night’s matchup with the New Jersey Devils, a team just on the outside of the playoff bubble. The Islanders will catch their opponent on the second half of a back-to-back set, but that doesn’t mean the test will be any easier.
“You know what’s to be expected of them,” Streit said of Boston. “I think we’ve got to keep playing the same way we have and raise up to the challenge. We know they’re a good team, but we’re a good team too. There’s eight more games to go. The standings are really tight. Every game is going to be crucial. At the same time, all our focus and concentration is on tomorrow night’s game. Nothing else matters right now.”