The NY Islanders find themselves in the first wild card slot in the Eastern Conference as of Thursday, March 2nd. The standings are ridiculously tight as several teams vie to punch their playoff spot. The Islanders' playoff hopes will in all likelihood come down to the wire.
Leading the wild card race, the Islanders are in possession of 70 points. However, Pittsburgh Penguins aren't far behind and although they've been on a bit of a skid, they hold what could be a crucial four games in hand on the Islanders in the playoff race.
Then there is the Buffalo Sabres, the Florida Panthers, and the Washington Capitals in a three-way tie with 66 Points, and they too all have games in hand on the Isles (Buffalo has five, Florida has two & Washington has one). Not far after are the Ottawa Senators who have been playing well as of late, and the Detroit Red Wings, both of which possess 64 Points and have four games in hand on the Isles.
Suffice it to say that makes each and every one of the Islanders' remaining 18 games of the regular season crucial to say the least. Each point in the standings won or lost could be the difference maker for the blue and orange on whether or not they make the playoffs.
Of the remaining 18 games, nine of those will be played on the road, while the other nine will be played at home in UBS Arena. It's shaping up to be a spicy finish too, as the Islanders will play each of the teams they're competing with in the wild card race at least one more time each, facing Pittsburgh and Detroit once more each, two more against the young and skilled Sabres (both at home) and three left against Washington who appears to have folded this season (one at home & two in DC).
Given the games in hand that Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Detroit all have on the Islanders, those are not just must-win games for the blue and orange but the Islanders are going to need to do their very best to ensure they don't find themselves in any three-point games that would allow the teams looking up at them in the standings to creep their way a little bit closer.
Without Mathew Barzal and J.G. Pageau for the next little while, the Islanders are going to have to hope they have what it takes to stay afloat and overcome the obstacle that is the disadvantage they face having played the most games in the NHL, while the rest in the playoff race play catchup.