The New York Islanders hit American Thanksgiving firmly entrenched in a playoff spot — typically a good barometer for a team’s chances of qualifying for the postseason — and feeling pretty good about themselves.
The picture has grown decidedly dimmer for the Islanders as Christmas approaches.
The Islanders will look to snap an ill-timed skid and do their part to climb back into a playoff spot Friday night when they face the Florida Panthers in Elmont, N.Y. It will be the final game for both teams before the NHL’s Christmas break.
The Islanders will be completing a back-to-back set after squandering a third-period lead Thursday night and falling 5-3 to the host New York Rangers. The Panthers also continued struggling Wednesday night, when they lost 4-2 to the visiting New Jersey Devils.
On Thanksgiving morning, the Islanders were 13-8-0, in second place in the Metropolitan Division and three points clear of ninth place in the Eastern Conference. According to NHL.com, in the 14 full seasons since 2005-06, more than 76 percent of the teams occupying a playoff spot on American Thanksgiving have qualified for the playoffs.
However, the Islanders have gone 5-6-2 since Turkey Day — including 3-6-2 in the past 11 games — to fall into ninth place, two points behind the Washington Capitals, who occupy the East’s final playoff position. The Capitals, who earned their eighth win in nine games Thursday by edging the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in overtime, are slated to host the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.
The Islanders have scored three goals or fewer seven times in their past 11 games. Even so, they appeared positioned to earn a win in a hostile venue Thursday night, when they carried a 3-2 lead into the third. They had just five shots in the third while the Rangers scored three times, including Kaapo Kakko’s game-winner with 2:47 remaining.
“Up 3-2 on the road, it’s a good spot to be,” said Islanders center Mathew Barzal, who scored in the second period. “Don’t really know what to say. It obviously sucks.”
The Panthers, who gave up three unanswered goals in the third period Wednesday, will take the ice Friday in an even more ominous position than the Islanders.
Florida earned the Presidents’ Trophy for finishing with the most points in the regular season last year before falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs. This season, the Panthers are closer to last place in the Atlantic Division (three points ahead of the Senators) than to a playoff spot (six points behind the Capitals).
The Panthers are 5-7-2 since American Thanksgiving. Each of their past six defeats dating back to Nov. 29 was by at least two goals.
The injury-wracked Panthers at least got a little closer to whole Wednesday, when center Anton Lundell, who missed the previous nine games with an upper-body injury, returned and recorded an assist.
Florida is still expected to be without center Aleksander Barkov (lower body), left winger Anthony Duclair (Achilles), defenseman Radko Gudas (concussion), right winger Patric Hornqvist (concussion) and center Chris Tierney (concussion) until at least late next week.
“Overall, I think it’s been a little hard,” Lindell told NHL.com. “We’ve had a lot of guys away, injured. I’m just happy to come back and try to help the team every game.”
–Field Level Media