Quick off the top of your head: when is the last time the New York Islanders were in a playoff position with three weeks left in the NHL season?
Okay, easier question: how many NHL playoff games has Josh Bailey played in?
It’s been a long time coming on Long Island, as the Islanders’ fans are well aware of, and they do indeed find themselves in the top 8 of the Eastern Conference as the lockout-shortened 2013 season draws to a close. It won’t be easy to clinch that elusive playoff berth as over their final ten games, six are on the road, including five straight to close out the schedule (Toronto, Winnipeg, Carolina, Philadelphia & Buffalo).
Bailey is currently in his fifth season (all 319 games with New York) and has yet to play one minute of NHL playoff hockey. But as he told The Hockey Writers after a recent road victory over the New Jersey Devils, his group is growing up together and they believe in one another enough to not only get into the postseason, but to make some noise.
“It’s exciting that every game we are playing is the most important game of the season, that’s what you want (as a player) at this time of year,” the 23-year-old Bailey said. “There are a lot of teams in this hunt that have the same mentality, but we just have to keep pushing forward and find a way to separate ourselves and stay in the top eight.”
Bailey’s goal is the first highlight in this video montage of their 3-1 win over the Devils on April 1:
A BIG bugaboo for the Isles over the past few years has been their inability to hold leads, especially in third periods. As Bailey noted after the win in New Jersey, that trend is starting to disappear as they were able to lead for basically the entire game after his goal 52 seconds into the game.
“It’s always nice to beat a division rival. We’ve had some good wins recently; at times they can look ugly. Other times we do a great job in the neutral zone, being disciplined in our system,” he said. “When we do that we usually get the results that we want.”
“It’s exciting (to come to the rink), you want to be in the hunt, in the mix,” Bailey said. “It’s a great time of the year to be playing (meaningful) hockey. We’ve missed this for the last few years, I think all the guys that have been here now for a while, it’s been frustrating; we just keep trying to win games and check the standings when our games are over. We’re not really focusing on making a push or not, we know we have to win to make it to the playoffs and really that’s all that matters right now.”
After missing time early in the season, Bailey has had a nice stretch in where he has been valuable to the Isles lineup on a game-to-game basis.
“My line-mates with Frans (Nielsen) and Kyle (Okposo), the three of us have tried to simplify our game, lately it’s been going pretty well. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we know the team needs us to play well and play hard,” he said. “Just like every other team, we need everyone going.”
After answering a lot of the same questions about the Islanders’ playoff push, Bailey’s last answer of the night showed the maturity that maybe his squad hasn’t had in recent years.
“To be in the playoff hunt is exciting,” he said, “but we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s a day-by-day process: try and win one and then move on to the next one.”
Somewhere, his coach, Jack Capuano, would be smiling had he heard that statement.