WASHINGTON — The Islanders need no help to secure home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. But going into the final day of the regular season, of all the teams that could help them, it ends up being the Rangers.
With the Islanders set for the regular-season finale against the Capitals on Saturday night — and with Washington having already locked up its fourth straight Metropolitan Division crown with a win Thursday night and having nothing else to play for — just one point for Barry Trotz’s team would wrap up second place and a series starting at the Coliseum either Wednesday or Thursday.
But the Islanders could also lock up that spot if the Rangers take a regulation win at Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the second leg of a back-to-back for the Blueshirts after hosting the Blue Jackets on Friday night.
Of course, the Rangers are in another post-deadline doldrums and are eyeing the draft-lottery odds more than anything else. But that proud group of professionals still wants to win, not focus on getting passed by the Red Wings or Sabres and increasing their odds of the first pick by one or two percent.
If the Rangers beat the Penguins in regulation, that could also open the possibility of the Hurricanes leapfrogging Pittsburgh for third in the division if they go into Philadelphia and beat the Flyers. The Hurricanes are playing well, riding the emotions from their gift-wrapped marketing slogan of “a bunch of jerks” and their whimsical (if immature) postgame celebrations. But they are still a more favorable postseason opponent than Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and the rest of the Pittsburgh crew that has won three Stanley Cups in the past decade.
So, yes, the Islanders hold the fate of home-ice in their hands, but some help for a more favorable postseason set-up could come their way, as well.
“I’ve been high on [the Coliseum] all year, but it’s not going to matter,” Trotz said after his team’s four-round shootout win over the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday night.
Trotz canceled Friday’s practice, another indication his team’s focus is solely on preparing for the postseason. When asked about the importance of home-ice advantage, he said it was more for the fans than for the team, before citing the “almost identical” records of 24-13-4 at home and 24-13-3 on the road.
The home records are almost split between the Islanders’ two venues, as well. They were 12-7-2 on Long Island, where there was 97.1-percent capacity and a terrific environment, and 12-6-2 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where the home games would be played if the Islanders advance past the first round.
But again, that was looking a bit farther down the line than Trotz is willing. After Thursday’s game, he said he had not really thought about what he might do with his lineup in the finale, with the possibility of resting players still viable.
It’s likely the Capitals aren’t going to dress the same lineup they will for Game 1 of their first-round playoff matchup, as they still try to figure out how to deal with the loss of key defenseman Michal Kempny.
But this is how it goes in the final days of the regular season, when big-picture things like clinching the playoffs are set, but small things like health and seeding still can be ironed out. Trotz knows that from all of his 20 years behind an NHL bench, including last season, when he led the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title.
So it’s one more game to go with a couple of questions and a couple of outside factors. The Islanders would like home-ice advantage, and they wouldn’t turn down some help from an unlikely partner like the Rangers. But in the end, they want to play well in the one regular-season game remaining to be ready for the postseason — no matter where or against whom it starts.
“It prepares us,” Trotz said, “and I like that.”