The best way the Islanders can soothe the sting of blowing a two-goal lead with less than nine minutes to play on Thursday night in Columbus is to turn around and clinch a playoff berth on Saturday.
They can do just that at Nassau Coliseum, where they will host a couple of old friends and the rest of the Sabres for the penultimate regular-season game in the old barn. If the Islanders get two points against the 30th-place Sabres and the Senators lose in regulation to the Capitals, the Isles will have a playoff berth locked up.
Of course, that's seemingly been the case for months. On Jan. 28, after a 4-1 win over the Rangers the night before, the Islanders sat atop the Metro Division by three points over the Penguins, but Thursday night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus dropped the Islanders to 13-13-5 since that win and into third place, just a point ahead of the Penguins and three ahead of the Bruins.
There are many permutations of possible finishes and possible playoff matchups still remaining -- only the Red Wings and Bruins are out as first-round opponents -- so the only focus is trying to win the last four games, earning home-ice advantage for the opening round and letting the matchups fall where they may.
"This is their time," Jack Capuano said of his players, repeating a sentiment the coach already had expressed during his team's post-All-Star lull. "As coaches, we prepare them the best we can every night and then it's their time, 12 periods or so of hockey left. We just continue to grind it out, keep working. You have to rebound, reset and get ready for the next one."
That next one would seem like a layup, with Matt Moulson, assistant coach Bryan Trottier and the Connor McDavid draft sweepstakes hopefuls coming to the Island one last time. The Sabres lost to the Blackhawks Friday night and have 52 points, two clear of the Coyotes (who faced San Jose later in the evening) for worst in the league.
They also have given the Islanders fits this season. There was a 4-3 shootout win over the Islanders on Dec. 27 in which Buffalo overcame a 3-0 deficit and a 3-2 Islanders win on Feb. 8 that nearly featured another Buffalo rally from 3-0 down.
There's also the matter of the Islanders' unsightly record the past 31 games. Most recently, they are 2-2-3 against teams currently out of the playoff picture, including Thursday night's blown lead.
"I thought we did a lot of good things, and that's what we'll take away," John Tavares said after the game. "It happens."
Notes & quotes: Mikhail Grabovski skated with his teammates in Friday's optional practice, his first time on the ice with them since he suffered a concussion on a hit from Nashville's Eric Nystrom on Feb. 19. He still is a ways away from returning to action . . . The team is hosting several former standouts for a "Decade Night" Saturday night. Coming back to the Coliseum are Ed Westfall, Garry Howatt, Bob Nystrom, Pierre Turgeon, Steve Webb and Shawn Bates, along with current team execs Eric Cairns and Ken Morrow and MSG broadcaster Butch Goring.