Dear Islanders: The Sunshine State welcomes you.
Though the Islanders have three more games left in the regular season and their playoff position has yet to be locked, Florida Panthers co-owner Doug Cifu told SiriusXM NHL Wednesday that if he had his pick, he’d choose to face the Islanders in the first round, and not the Rangers.
“I guess the Rangers have a great, world-class goalie, so in a coin flip, I’d probably prefer the Islanders,” said Cifu, a Syosset native who grew up a Rangers fan. “Obviously, the Rangers and the Islanders are both really, really strong teams.”
And right now, it looks like he’s going to get his wish.
The Islanders clinched a playoff berth Tuesday with a comeback 4-3 win in overtime over the Capitals, and are currently in line to play the Panthers, the Atlantic Division winners, in the first round. A loss against the Rangers Thursday all but guarantees the Islanders a matchup with Florida, and the Islanders need three points in their final three games to eliminate the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals as a potential first-round opponent.
Their chance at gaining home ice is slim: At 97 points with a game in hand, they would need to win their last three, against the Rangers, Sabres and Flyers, and have Pittsburgh (102 points) lose their last two.
Not to mention, they’re battling a slew of injuries: Cal Clutterbuck and Calvin de Haan were scratched Tuesday after getting hurt in the win over the Lightning Monday and Brian Strait (upper body) left the game before the third period Tuesday. Mikhail Grabovski has been out for three weeks while Travis Hamonic and No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak probably won’t be back until some point in the playoffs, at the earliest.
Which makes Cifu’s assessment — namely, that Henrik Lundqvist and his 98 playoff starts and .923 save percentage is more intimidating than the Islanders’ current package of Thomas Greiss and rookie Christopher Gibson — hardly incendiary.
“Hey, I’m from Syosset,” he tweeted after his segment. “Love the Islanders. Just want to see them in Sunrise (Florida)! Big Gilles (Gillies) fan.”
Notes & quotes: Since the 5-0 loss to Pittsburgh Saturday that he called “embarrassing” and “unacceptable,” John Tavares has taken it upon himself to help carry the Islanders through their injury woes. He has three points in back-to-back games, his highest two-game point total all season and the first time he’s had multiple points in consecutive games since Feb. 13 . . . Islanders playoff tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday . . . Though the Islanders were off Wednesday, a handful made their way to Syosset’s IceWorks to skate, including de Haan and J-F Berube. Clutterbuck, Strait, Hamonic, Grabovski and Halak did not skate.
With Arthur Staple