The New York Islanders defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout Tuesday night to further establish themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff picture that includes the top eight teams at the conclusion of play on April 10. But entering the dressing room to discuss the results with the players, you wouldn't have guessed it.
Typically after victories, the players enter to the chorus of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Downtown" and give the attendant who guards the doors religiously a combination fist/chest bump, putting the exclamation point on the evening.
Last night, there was no hooting and hollering, no extra yard taken. And the music, which typically lasts for a good two minutes before being silenced so we can do our jobs, lasted for maybe 30 seconds or so before being silenced even before we were waved in.
Kyle Okposo did not stick around long to do a compete media scrum, but offered some snarky comments to New York Post reporter Brett Cyrgalis when questioned about the ice surface.
"Awful," Okposo said. "Can't have it like that. It's got to change. It's got to be better than that. Early stages, kind of felt like one of the preseason games out there, it wasn't very good."
Normally, I wouldn't put any stock into ice complaints being an excuse for sloppy, poor play, but given the nature of the hockey played, this just might be that one time it truly is validated. Shots on goal will say 31-27 Islanders and advanced stats will proclaim that, at 5-on-5, the Islanders had 24 scoring chances to the Hurricanes' 12. But I challenge each and every reader to go watch the game again -- if you can stomach it -- and try to count how the Isles totaled 24 scoring chances.
At the end of the day, two points are two points in this results-based business, and, eye-test be damned, the Islanders have now won three of their last four, taking six of eight points at a critical juncture of their schedule. With a home game against Columbus on Thursday, New York has a chance to go into a rough final week with some breathing room. The clinching points are at the Islanders' fingertips, but they know they have to play better. They know this kind of effort will not beat many teams when the league pares down to the final 16.
"We stayed with it, we didn't play great. We never panic or get frustrated so that's a good sign but we have to pick it up here, especially at home," Frans Nielsen said after Tuesday's game. "This would have been an ugly game to lose. We really had to battle for every inch tonight, but at the end of the day, we found a way. It wasn't pretty. Confidence is everything in this sport. When you have it, everything seems so easy out there and when you don't, the only thing you can do is grind it out, get pucks deep and simplify your game."
The Islanders have repeated all season long that they know what they have to do in order to be a successful team. It's not on the coaching staff, the trainers or the arena to get the players ready to play. The standings show the continued tightening of things in the East and, more specifically, the Metropolitan Division. They notice.
"We want to play better than we are right now," Nielsen said. "We are very aware of the situation we are in right now, with teams chasing us to make the playoffs. We have to play a playoff-style game -- get pucks deep, play simple. Sometimes you play teams at this point who play more freely and it's not always easy but we know how we have to play. Fast, north-south game. Be aggressive.
"I liked the way we played last game in Carolina (a 4-3 overtime win on Saturday). I was hoping we would have come back and done a little bit more tonight, but we have to figure it out."
Fun with numbers
New York switched defensive pairs last night, putting Nick Leddy with Travis Hamonic. The two led in ice time with 27:01 and 26:17, respectively.
Captain John Tavares picked up an assist on the game-tying goal and led the team with 11 shot attempts (four on goal, two blocked, five missed).
Thomas Greiss, who didn't appear in more than 25 games prior to this season, is now fourth in the NHL in save percentage (.925) after 37 games.
The Islanders' magic number falls to seven with their win in the shootout and Detroit's 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
New York is currently at 91 points with seven games remaining. If you go aggressive and take only three points (one loss, one OT/SO loss) off each team's ledger to the end of the season, the standings would look like this:
Meaning the Islanders can achieve higher point totals with the below records:
7-0-0 = 105 pts
6-0-1 = 104 pts
4-3-0 = 99 pts
3-2-2 = 99 pts
2-1-4 = 99 pts
1-0-6 = 99 pts
2-4-1 = 96 pts
1-3-3 = 96 pts
0-2-5 = 96 pts
2-5-0 = 95 pts
1-4-2 = 95 pts
0-3-4 = 95 pts