Nassau Coliseum’s regular-season slate is officially in the books, for real this time, as the New York Islanders reclaimed their early-season style to breeze past the New Jersey Devils in a 5-1 victory on Sunday night.
Now comes the final game of the regular season before the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and a slim opportunity for the Islanders to move up into the No. 3 spot in the division.
The Islanders trail the Boston Bruins — who they’ll play on Monday night in that regular-season finale — by a single point for the third seed. It’s an opportunity to salvage a mediocre finish to the season, which most recently finished a two-game sweep in Buffalo at the hands of the last-place Sabres before dropping the first of two to the Devils on Thursday night.
While Boston has a game in hand, they’ll finish their regular-season slate on Tuesday against a Washington Capitals team that could have the opportunity to hop over the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Eastern Division — so it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that the Islanders could leapfrog Boston.
Then it’s anyone’s guess who comes out of the toughest division in hockey as the top four seeds have worn each other down all season in their exclusive regular-season schedule.
“I think we’re okay with whoever the opponent is,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I would like to finish as high as you can. If you can get a home-ice round somewhere – this division is very capable of a four seed beating a one seed or a three seed beating a two seed. You just want to play well, get as high as you can.
“We sort of messed that up with our games against Buffalo. You want to feel good, you want to be healthy, and you want to be playing a decent game going into the playoffs. That’s where I’d like to finish off against Boston.”
Saturday night’s victory against the Devils at least provided some hope that the Islanders can get back to their game after losing eight of their previous 13, in which forward Jordan Eberle admitted the team was in “tune-up mode.”
“Anything can happen in this league,” he said. “You want to continue to try and put as many points up and see where you lie. We’re expecting to get a good team no matter what, whether it’s Boston, Washington, or Pittsburgh. It really doesn’t matter, you’re going to have your hands full no matter what.”
That way, they can play a few more games at Nassau Coliseum before its second farewell tour comes to an end six years after originally saying goodbye to their original home.
“As mentioned before, guys that have been here for a long time, there’s a lot of memories,” center Brock Nelson said about the Coliseum. “Just trying to finish on a positive note and also staying in the moment, realize where we are, build our game for the playoffs, and make this a special run.”