If the New York Islanders have designs on making the playoffs this season, tonight's (3/28) game in Philadelphia is one they must win.
Never mind that the Isles have only won twice at the (now) Wells Fargo Center since 2007, or that the Flyers have basically owned New York in recent history, winning 25 of the last 28 contests.
Put all that aside, because a win this evening might signal the start of a "different" Islanders team. The way the season has played out so far, it's certainly a different Flyers squad (13-17-2).
Thursday night's game is the first time an Islanders team is within reach of a playoff spot this late in a season since 2007.
Naturally, some of it is due to the abbreviated lockout season the league is playing. But some of it is actual change for the better, such as Michael Grabner's return to health and productivity. Some is Kyle Okposo picking up his production (five points in his last six games), though his season is still well short of expectations. And of course, a lot has to do with John Tavares' growth as a scorer and Evgeni Nabokov's steady hand in net (2.80 GAA on the season).
But this game is important for another reason, in that it would get the Isles over a mental hurdle as well. Not only would they win in Philadelphia, but to put down and keep down a team struggling in the standings below them. Furthermore, they need a win to keep pace with their competition in a league where seemingly everyone gets at least a point on any given night.
In the first game against the Flyers this season, the Islanders folded their collective tents and lost 7-0 on home ice. But now they can see the finish line ahead of them and it's a chance for Jack Capuano's squad to "show and prove."
Losing this one, followed by a loss in Pittsburgh, would finish their playoff drive.
A win would do the opposite, sending them into Western Pennsylvania with momentum and three consecutive wins. The boost in the team's self confidence would be enormous.
I realize most of you aren't viewing tonight's battle as make-or-break, but with 14 games remaining after it, I believe this is the one on which the season could turn.
They won! The Islanders rallied from a two goal defecit, winning 4-3 in a shootout. John Tavares scored, Colin McDonald had two goals, and Josh Bailey netted the shootout winner.