John Tavares says the Islanders are not trying to manipulate the standings, and their playoff seeding, down the stretch.
The chatter used to take place around bars and water coolers, but now it’s generally seen around message boards and Twitter threads.
The prevalent thinking around many fans and media members the past few days has been that the Islanders — now that they’ve clinched a postseason berth — would be better off facing Atlantic Division champion Florida in the playoffs while avoiding white-hot Pittsburgh and getting out of Washington’s side of the bracket.
Not that you would expect anything different, but the Islanders players and coaches want no part of that sort of thinking.
“There is absolutely no manipulating (of the standings) whatsoever. Whoever we play we play,” Isles captain John Tavares said before Thursday night’s game against the Rangers at the Garden. “To go out and win the Stanley Cup and achieve the ultimate goal, you have to beat four really good hockey teams.
“So whoever you’re going to play, whether it’s a good matchup, or you’ve had more success against one team or another, those are things youcant control and you want to put yourself in the best possible position.”
The Isles clinched their second consecutive playoff trip with an overtime win Tuesday in Washington and began play Thursday two points behind the third-place Rangers with one game in hand. Whichever team finishes in third in the Metropolitan Division will face surging Pittsburgh, winners of 13 of 14 entering their game Thursday against the Caps. The first wild-card team (seventh seed) would play Jaromir Jagr and the Panthers in the first round.
Of course, Florida co-owner Doug Cifu said in a radio interview earlier this week that he’d prefer to face the Islanders over the Rangers because of the Isles’ inexperience in goal — backup Thomas Greiss with Jaroslav Halak (groin) injured — as compared to “world-class goalie” Henrik Lundqvist.
“You look at the scenarios, but it’s never who you’d rather play, this team or that team. You can’t think like that. Because the second you do, you’re out in four straight,” Kyle Okposo said.
“I would never even think about that,” coach Jack Capuano added. “Listen, the fans are great, they always have their opinion on a lot of things, and I’m sure they have their opinion on that, too. I respect what they have to say. But this hockey club and our competitiveness when we step out on the ice, we’re going to try to win.”
Capuano said he will consider resting players over the final two games this weekend, with the Isles missing several regulars due to injuries. Defenseman Calvin de Haan (leg) might return Thursday night, Capuano said, but winger Cal Clutterbuck appears doubtful.