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The Eastern Conference playoff race may be starting to look a bit more clear, and the New York Islanders are continuing to hang around.
After taking three of four points from a brief two-game road trip against some good competition, the Islanders picked up another big win today, taking down the Detroit Red Wings. After maybe deserving a better result in their shootout loss to the Wild on Tuesday, then Islanders came out with another really strong performance today, outshooting Detroit 36-23 on route to the win.
Pierre Engvall was up on the first line in his Islanders' debut, registering two shots. I’m not sure it’s the ideal spot for him even with the injuries, but the line did work well, managing an expected goals for percentage of 66 per cent.
New York is playing some good hockey right now, at a 9-3-3 record over their last 15 games. Looking back to their series of losses against non-playoff teams, it seemed unlikely at that point that they’d be able to hang in the playoff race.
Points-wise, the Islanders are currently holding the first wildcard spot, but have played several more games than most other teams. Compared to last year (where the top eight teams were well-defined early on), we're seeing a really interesting playoff race in the East.
The bad news is the Buffalo Sabres did also win today, meaning the Islanders weren’t able to separate themselves from the team they’re in closest competition with for the final wildcard spot. That said, the win over Detroit is a big hit to the Red Wings' postseason hopes.
At this point, the Pittsburgh Penguins are still the favourite to take the first wildcard spot. However, the Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and now Ottawa Senators seem to be the teams starting to break away, in a three-way battle for the final spot. One of the Red Wings, Florida Panthers or Washington Capitals could still go on a run and sneak in, but we also saw both the Red Wings and Capitals sell big at the deadline, creating a tougher path to get to the playoffs. Factoring in games in hand, the Sabres and Senators seem like they'll be the biggest problems for New York.
This was the first of four huge games for the Islanders, in which they face Eastern Conference opponents fighting to get into the playoffs. Their next game will come on Tuesday, in a massive battle against the Buffalo Sabres at home.
The Islanders are four points up on the Sabres, but Buffalo does have four games in hand. A win over the Sabres arguably leaves New York as the frontrunner for the last playoff spot, heading into the final stretch of the season. A loss puts New York in a much worse position, where they’re likely going to have to make up ground with limited runway left.
For now though, this was a big win to put the Islanders a bit closer to the playoffs.