The Eastern Conference wild card race has pretty much delivered this season, providing a tight group down the stretch where teams competed by tripping over their toes.
It’s tapered off now with under 10 games to go, as teams like tonight’s hosts, the Washington Capitals, have probably stumbled one too many times. Credit them for hanging in it well after their general manager gave up on the season though, and if they manage to win these two upcoming meetings in regulation, they will really make the Isles sweat.
Plus the race is technically not over for the Caps yet: Though they enter tonight nine points behind the Isles, they are six behind the Penguins, who are doing their best to prove beyond all doubt that Ron Hextall is out of his element. Sure, there are three other teams between the Caps and that second wild card spot, but equally crazy things occasionally happen.
Boy, what a minimal and sorrowful difference six weeks make:
This is Paul Maurice's system in full effect— Alex Slemp (@AlexSlemp) February 17, 2023
A lot of growing pains to start the year but no matter the outside noise, Coach stood firm in his system, the players' belief never waivered, and now the Panthers sit tied for a playoff spot
Trust the process #timetohunt pic.twitter.com/JdSlwczJy4
As far as tonight’s roster, no news is the same news for the Islanders:
Sebastian Aho remained in New York to skate on his own. He will be re-evaluated and then a decision will be made on whether he travels for back-to-back in Tampa Bay and Carolina. #Isles returning to NY after tonight's game in DC, will practice there and then fly to Tampa— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) March 29, 2023
Brock Nelson's shiner has gone away and his right eye is looking much better. But he said medical team found something where it was determined it would be better for him to wear a face shield for a few weeks.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) March 29, 2023
For the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin is on a four-game goal streak and up to 42 on the season, while fortunate Long Island son(ny) Milano is day-to-day dealing with an injury.
The U.S. broadcast is on TNT — and in a flip of the script from the old Comcast days, this time the Islanders’ announcer has the call. There are only two other games on the NHL schedule tonight, but one of them is the Florida Panthers in Toronto. As Steve noted in the morning bits when recounting various wild card chasers’ self-inflicted wounds, if the Cats can’t scratch the Leafs, the Isles will be sitting very pretty when tonight’s over.