Islanders have chance to put ‘exclamation point’ on huge week vs. Capitals on Saturday

Islanders Lee Nelson
New York Islanders Anders Lee (27) celebrates a goal with center Brock Nelson (29) as Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letting (58) skates by during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Pittsburgh. The Islanders won 4-3. (AP Photo/Philip G. Pavely)

PITTSBURGH — What was considered a make-or-break week for the New York Islanders could not have started off much better. 

Against three teams that are chasing them in the Eastern Conference Wild Card standings — all of whom have at least three games in hand — the Islanders have defeated each of the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and most recently, a thriller over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena. 

It’s as vital a three-game win streak as the team could have imagined. They now have 76 points and cracked a slim two-point cushion over the Penguins, eight over the Sabres, and nine over the Red Wings — though the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers (both with 70 points) are still very much in the mix for the two Wild Card spots currently held by the Islanders and Penguins.

“This is playing against teams that are all in the same little tight picture for the Wild Card,” Brock Nelson, who scored the overtime winner on Thursday night in Pittsburgh to complete an improbable comeback, said.

To end the pivotal week that sees the Islanders very much alive and well in the playoff picture, a Saturday-night date at UBS Arena with the Washington Capitals — who are seven points behind New York with just one fewer game played — awaits.

“Given this point in the season, that’d be huge,” Nelson continued on what a win on Saturday would do. “It’d be a big confidence boost and now we have a little momentum after a few games coming out with big points. So if we close it out, it would definitely put a nice exclamation point.”

Islanders Penguins Brock Nelson Anders Lee
The New York Islanders celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Philip G. Pavely)

The Islanders could all but eliminate a Capitals team that indicated at the trade deadline that the playoffs aren’t the top priority this season from contention. While New York is 11-3-3 in its last 17 games, Washington has won just three of its last 12.

“Winning’s fun. It doesn’t matter how you do it,” Nelson said. “So it’s obviously better than other points in the season but with that, you try to take it for what it is. Don’t get too high, get back to work, and keep the ball rolling.”

It certainly appears to be here for the Islanders’ taking as they continue to build on their playoff odds which have taken a significant jump over the past week. 

Prior to the 4-1 win over the Red Wings last Saturday, the Islanders’ projected playoff chances were at just 37%. Three wins later and heading into this Saturday against Washington, it’s at 58.3%, per MoneyPuck

“It’s another big game coming up,” center Casey Cizikas said. “I think [something special is brewing]. When we play our game, the way we know we have to play it, we could play with anyone in this league and we just have to do that for a full 60.”

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