EAST MEADOW — In what has felt like a season of constantly chasing — whether that was consistency or other teams in the standings — it certainly appears that things are lining up for the New York Islanders taking.
A team that has gone 9-3-3 over their last 15 games and current holders of the top spot of the Eastern Conference Wild Card picture, the Islanders received further good news when center Jean-Gabriel Pageau took the ice for his first practice since going on injured reserve on Feb. 11.
“Injuries are always a part of the year but whenever you get guys back in a critical time of the year, we’ve seemed to find a little bit of a groove the last couple of weeks,” veteran forward Brock Nelson said. “Definitely, a lot of pieces are kind of lining up right now and you try to keep that going, get those guys back, and try to run with it and keep the ball moving.”
The next week is as vital as any for the Islanders’ playoff hopes. They’re one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins — who have played three fewer games — and four points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, who have played four fewer games.
As the hockey scheduling gods have just so happened to make it, the Islanders host the Sabres on Tuesday night (7 p.m. ET) before heading to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Thursday.
The formula is easy for a team that appears to be in control of its own fate: Win.
“We have to find a way to win hockey games,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. ‘ We’re playing a lot of games against teams that are in the same hunt so we have to do a good job of taking care of business there.
“But we can’t control what happens around the league when we’re off. The thing we can control is the games we’re playing and that has to be our focus.”
The Islanders’ recent run has done wonders for their playoff hopes. Despite losing Mathew Barzal to a lower-body injury that has him out on a week-to-week basis, New York’s usual calling card of defense and goaltending has stepped up in a big way. They’ve allowed just eight goals over their last six games.
With it, their current odds to make the playoffs stand at 41.6%, per MoneyPuck.
“I think the biggest thing is just where our game’s at and where it’s gotten to and how we continue to build on that and continue to play good hockey,” captain Anders Lee said. “The other stuff, it’s always great when guys are coming back and getting healthy. It’s a big week with the two teams — us three are going for it a little bit here and I’m looking forward to that.”
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