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Islanders entering must-win territory after elongated slump

Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night’s tilt against the Montreal Canadiens begins the final slate of New York Islanders home games at the Barclays Center. 

No, not for the season, but for good. 

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday that every Islanders postseason home game will be played at their original home, the Nassau Coliseum, as well as every regular-season home game for the 2020-21 season before the team’s new arena in Belmont, is completed. 

The problem with half of that announcement is that the playoffs this season are anything but confirmed for them.

Shortly following a franchise-record 17-game point streak that catapulted them toward the top of the standings, the Islanders are 12-12-6 since Dec. 19. That includes a recent stretch in which they’ve won just two of their last nine games with their latest clunker coming in the form of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Saturday. 

Once contending for the Metropolitan Division title, the Islanders are now clutching onto the top Eastern Conference wild-card spot with 78 points. 

Recent struggles by some of the top teams in the division, however, has the Islanders just eight points behind the first-place Washington Capitals and five behind the surging second-place Philadelphia Flyers. 

A win on Tuesday night could draw New York even with the Pittsburgh Penguins for third. 

It’s certainly a missed opportunity for the Islanders had they played plus-.500 hockey in recent weeks, but with 18 games to go, there are still plenty of chances to get back into a top-three spot in the Metro. 

The acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau has given the Islanders an added scoring boost while bolstering the middle of their lineup, but Barry Trotz’s men are still not at full strength as fourth-line center Casey Cizikas continues to recover from a left-leg laceration.

Cizikas is the engine of the Islanders’ “identity line” that recently got Cal Clutterbuck back from a skate cut to his left wrist. Once he returns, New York will have one of the best depth charts at the center position in the NHL alongside Pageau, Brock Nelson, and Mathew Barzal.

Trotz told reporters on Monday that Cizikas will resume skating “soon” (h/t Newsday’s Andrew Gross).

During his final stages of recovery, the Islanders have a pair of winnable games waiting for them. 

The Canadiens have slumped since the trade deadline, losing seven of their last 10 games, but defeated the Islanders in their first meeting this season, 4-2, in Montreal. 

A meeting in Ottawa against the Senators follows on Thursday — another winnable game that could help stabilize things for the home stretch before a road-heavy schedule that has the Islanders playing six of their ensuing eight games away from Brooklyn or Long Island. 

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