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Islanders in familiar must-win situation

by Mike Battaglino

The New York Islanders find themselves in a must-win situation Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, facing elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The Islanders are familiar with the scenario, playing almost an entire month of must-win games as they battled for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Second half of the season, we were a little bit behind the 8-ball and trying to make the playoffs and had to play well, get some wins, and get on a little bit of a roll, and we seemed to do that," Hart Trophy nominee John Tavares told ESPN on Friday. "And I think what we did was, we didn't look at the overall big picture, just one day at a time, and I think we've kind of actually brought that into the playoffs here now.

"Focus one game at a time, and obviously we've got to find a way to get the results that we need and stick to what's been working for us, and keep getting better that way and know how we've been successful."

The teams have alternated wins in this best-of-7 series, including a split of Games 3 and 4 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, site of Game 6 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, RDS, TSN, ROOT, MSG PLUS).

"We've been in these must-win situations before, and our guys have responded pretty well," coach Jack Capuano told the team's website. "We're at home, hopefully we'll have that barn rocking here tomorrow night again like we had the previous two games that we can feed off."

The Islanders have lost two games by shutout, both at Pittsburgh. They responded to the 5-0, Game 1 loss with a 4-3 win there, and won Game 4, 6-4, after dropping their playoff home opener 5-4. The Penguins won Game 5, 4-0.

"I've liked our bounce-back games all year long, and in this series as well, when we've been down, after Game 1 and after Game 3, so I'm sure with tomorrow being a huge game and back on home ice, the energy will be there, the emotion, and we're going to need our best effort against a team like Pittsburgh," Tavares said.

It will be a battle of Hart Trophy nominees, with Tavares and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby each nominated for the NHL MVP award Friday along with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin.

"It's a tremendous honor for me," Tavares said. "Growing up, I always wanted to play in the NHL. A lot of people I looked up to and idolized were Hart Trophy nominees and some of the best players to ever play the game.

"It's special and there's a lot of people that helped me on my path to get here today. It truly is special, and a great honor, and very humbling to be recognized with those two great players."

Tavares finished third in the League with 28 goals and his 47 points led the Islanders. He averaged 20:46 of ice time per game.

"Let’s face it. If John Tavares didn’t have the season that he had, we’re probably not in the situation that we’re in," Capuano told the team's website.

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