The New York Islanders will look to regroup from a disheartening loss and try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive when they visit the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night.
The Islanders (34-30-9, 77 points) are 15 points behind the Washington Capitals in the chase for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot with nine games remaining.
It would take a miracle finish, not to mention a stunning Washington skid, for the Islanders to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, but they can keep that one-in-a-million chance alive by beating the Canadiens (20-43-11, 51 points).
New York is coming off a 6-3 road loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, a result made worse with the Penguins scoring two empty-net goals. Still, the first order of business in Montreal will be a much better start.
“First period we were soft. We were too easy to play against,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We gave up odd-man rushes, we got beat off the walls, we were just playing shinny, and you can’t do that.”
The Islanders have dropped three of their past five games.
New York did have one thing to cheer in Pittsburgh — the first goal of the season for defenseman Zdeno Chara. The 45-year-old veteran, who hasn’t announced whether he will retire next season, snapped a 108-game drought with a third-period tally. It’s his first goal since Feb. 1, 2021.
“It’s always nice to score a goal in the NHL,” Chara said. “Way too many opportunities where I kind of hit a crossbar or post this season. Too bad it wasn’t earlier or a better time in the game. Hopefully the next one is going to help us win a hockey game.”
The Canadiens, who sit last in the Eastern Conference and lead only the Arizona Coyotes in the league standings, have lost three straight. They are 3-6-1 in their past 10 games and look every bit like a team that’s playing out the string.
Coming off a humbling 5-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, the Canadiens will kick off a four-game homestand with games against the Islanders and Capitals on consecutive nights.
“Two tough teams coming in,” Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson said. “We’re excited for it, though. It’s Easter weekend, and everyone’s got some family coming to town, so it’s going to be nice to see them.”
Montreal, which has eight games remaining in what has been a disastrous campaign after reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season, will have strong odds to win the draft lottery.
“I think this team is mentally tired — and I get it,” interim coach Martin St. Louis said. “They had a tough, tough season, and then coaches change and I’m asking them a lot and implementing so many things. So there’s a lot going on for them in terms of handling all that mentally and stuff.”
Montreal is 12-13-4 since St. Louis took the coaching reins, but the loss to Columbus left a bitter taste.
“There’s no excuses for the way we played,” Edmundson said. “There’s going to be nights you’re tired, but you got to find a way to grind through that. I’m sure they have guys that are tired. It’s a long season, but it’s not an excuse. You got to be ready to play every night.”
–Field Level Media