Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The New York Islanders are one of only four teams who, as of Saturday morning, will have two games remaining on their 2015-16 schedule, as snow forced the postponement of games in Brooklyn and Washington back in January.
The Islanders, after facing the Buffalo Sabres and super-rookie Jack Eichel on Saturday night, will close things out with a grudge match against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, a game that could have huge playoff implications for the Flyers as they chase the final wild card spot in the Eastern conference. In the league's other final game, the Anaheim Ducks will travel to Washington to take on the Capitals.
It might not be until approximately 9:30 p.m. Sunday for the final playoff matchups to be set in both conferences, as in addition to the dogfight at the bottom of the East continues, the Ducks are chasing the Los Angeles Kings by two points for the Pacific Division title.
For the Islanders, however, they might know who they will play in the opening round before even taking the ice on Sunday, which could make for an interesting lineup decision by head coach Jack Capuano. Hockey players are not programmed to miss games when healthy and loathe it to their core, but if you are a little dinged up, it could present an opportunity that, let's be realistic, might not come again until you pack up your locker and return to your summer home.
With major issues on the injury list such as Jaroslav Halak, Travis Hamonic, Mikhail Grabovski and the newly added Anders Lee, that is the reason Cal Clutterbuck (leg) or Matt Martin (shoulder) did not play Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, even though both participated in the morning skate. New York had clinched a playoff berth and there was no logical reason to risk either of those important players further aggravating their injuries.
Two possibilities still exist heading into the weekend for the Islanders, and each present a different set of challenges moving forward. They can either finish third in the Metropolitan Division and play the Pittsburgh Penguins, which would keep them in the division bracket moving forward, or they could still finish in the first wild card position and face the Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division bracket.
Plus, their rivals, the New York Rangers, could have a lot to say in which bracket the Islanders land.
If the Rangers pick up two points of any kind in their game against the Detroit Red WIngs (12:30 p.m.), the Islanders would need to win three of their final four points to finish ahead of the Rangers and meet the Penguins. A loss to Buffalo in regulation, for example, and they face Florida next week.
If the Rangers lose in overtime or a shootout, the Isles would need two of four points to play the Penguins.
If the Rangers lose in regulation, one point is all it would take to set up a rematch with Sidney Crosby.
Of course, the Islanders could drop all four of their points, which is possible considering how well the young Sabres are playing right now and how the Flyers are very desperate to grab an invite to the postseason. (Although they could be eliminated by Saturday evening.) In that scenario, the Rangers would clinch the third spot in the division by virtue of regulation/overtime wins (42-40), even if they lose outright tomorrow, and would play Pittsburgh with the Islanders traveling to Sunrise.
Rangers head coach Alain Vingeault announced Friday that Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Mats Zuccarello and Henrik Lundqvist will miss Saturday's game, giving Detroit what seems to be a huge advantage -- on paper at least. The Red Wings are looking for two points of any kind that would seal a playoff berth for a NHL record 25th straight season, the longest such streak in the four major sports.