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Islanders need to make Capitals pay in Stanley Cup playoffs

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Islanders' Nick Leddy, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo (l. to r.) will begin their final playoff run at Nassau Coliseum against the Washington Capitals.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Islanders’ Nick Leddy, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo (l. to r.) will begin their final playoff run at Nassau Coliseum against the Washington Capitals.

The Islanders are proud of their 101 regular-season points, their playoff berth and their ability to extend their stay at Nassau Coliseum. But as defenseman Johnny Boychuk said Saturday night, “The season is over and now it’s time to start the real season.”

Perhaps it’s unfair to say that the Isles limped into the playoffs — which begin with Game 1 on Wednesday night in Washington — but after their torrid pace to start the year, more is expected out of Jack Capuano’s club that finished 4-7-3 over the final month of the season.

Much of the talk in the locker room these days has been about playing a 60-minute game, something the Isles haven’t delivered consistently of late. They took care of business on Friday night against stumbling Pittsburgh, stomping on the gas pedal with two goals in the third period to pull away, 3-1. But that killer instinct has been absent more often than not.

On April 2 in Columbus, the Isles saw a 3-1 third-period lead evaporate and eventually lost in a shootout, 4-3. A sloppy start last week in Philadelphia was followed by a magnificent comeback in the waning moments of regulation. Then with just 2.1 seconds left, the game quite literally slipped through their fingers on Jaroslav Halak’s mishap in net. The Isles also led 3-1 and 4-3 in the third period of Saturday night’s regular-season finale, but they failed to put Columbus away and lost to the Blue Jackets, 5-4, in another shootout.

“They got a bounce,” Capuano said of Brandon Dubinsky’s momentous goal that brought Columbus within one. “They weren’t getting a sniff. We dominated the game… We had 52 shots, we had four breakaways in the first, I don’t know, 17 minutes of that game and could have been up three or four goals.”

Sure, Dubinsky’s goal that caromed off of the skates of Josh Bailey and Halak as well as a post before crossing the goal line was beyond fortuitous. But the Isles still led 3-2 at that point and led 4-3 with 4:24 to play after Nikolay Kulemin tapped in a John Tavares rebound.

The Isles have shown that they are good enough to beat anybody in the league. But if they can’t put together 60-minute games and can’t manage to hold leads against the Capitals and five-time goal-scoring champion Alex Ovechkin, the Islanders will leave the Coliseum for Barclays Center on a sour note.

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