Islanders face daunting playoff push as inconsistencies have hopes fading

SUNRISE, Fla. — Do-or-die might not be a strong enough term for the situation facing the Islanders because not only do they need a dramatic turnaround in their own play to finish over the playoff cutline, but they will need some help.

As things stand before a three-game road trip starts here on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale against the Panthers on Thursday night, the Islanders are six points behind Washington, which holds the last playoff spot in the East, and both teams have 11 games remaining in their seasons.

The Islanders are also four points behind the Red Wings, with a game in hand, and a point behind New Jersey, with two games in hand.

Islanders coach Patrick Roy knows his team will need a major turnaround to make the playoffs. AP

The Flyers, who have held onto third in the division for much of the season, do appear somewhat vulnerable and are seven points ahead of the Islanders with 73 games played to New York’s 71, with an absolute-must-win game at Wells Fargo Center slated to finish out this road trip on Monday night.

By losing seven of their last eight games, however, the Islanders have taken their destiny out of their own hands.

During their three-game gauntlet that runs through Florida, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, they simply cannot afford anything less than five points, preferably six, as their margin for error has shrunk beyond recognition.

Naturally, their recent play does not inspire much confidence that they can rip off the necessary heater to stay relevant in the season’s final weeks.

“We were a little faster in our D-zone coverage, second quick [before the current losing streak],” coach Patrick Roy told reporters after the Islanders held a second straight day of practice preceding the team’s flight down South. “We were giving less time and space to the other team on D-zone coverage. That’s slipping a little bit and that’s why we’ve been practicing a lot.

“And the other thing that’s started slipping is our one-on-one battles. That’s why we practiced our one-on-one battles over the last two days.”

Indeed, during the eight-game stretch beginning in Los Angeles on March 11, the Islanders have spent more periods looking disinterested than they have attacking, forechecking and helping each other in support.

Some kind of falloff was to be expected after they ripped off six wins in a row.

But not so sudden and not so dramatic.

The resultant waste of a manageable stretch of schedule means that saving the season now hinges on finding the same sudden and dramatic turnaround, only in the other direction.

Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin will need to play well down the stretch. AP

For a team that has not been able to overcome its own mental inconsistencies all season — so much so that Roy acknowledged it’s been a persistent issue following the loss to New Jersey on Sunday — that is even more mammoth a task than it seems.

“We play like we practice,” Roy said. “Sometimes when you have those compete-level drills, sometimes you want to keep them a little longer because you want to see the mind. When I’m tired, am I gonna give up or am I gonna find a way? Because sometimes it’s not the body you need to convince, it’s the mind.”

Islanders center Bo Horvat and New Jersey Devils defenseman Luke Hughes battle for the puck during the second period at UBS Arena. Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Even if the Islanders can pull off a run, they will need some help, albeit from teams that have been happy to offer hope to their competitors all season long.

“I think it’s just come here and give it everything you have,” captain Anders Lee told reporters. “I think we had to put two hard days of work in to make sure we’re in a better spot than we were a couple days ago, have our legs and be ready to go for Thursday. That was the mentality the last two days is come in to get better.”

Whether everything the Islanders have is enough to make the playoffs, well, that is the question.

Lately, it hasn’t been nearly enough.

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