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Isles Vie for Favorable First Round Foe

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COMMENTARY | Three wins have never mattered more.

With three victories, the New York Islanders will virtually ensure a first-round playoff battle with either Montreal or Washington. And that's important if they want to move forward.

The Isles have winning records against both those opponents this year, but not versus the top two seeded squads. And precedence matters.

Last year, teams that won the season series had a much higher likelihood of winning the ensuing playoff battles. In fact, only two teams - Ottawa (Round 1) and New Jersey (Round 4) - lost playoff rounds after winning the season series.

This year, the Islanders finished with a 2-1-0 record against Montreal and a 2-0-1 mark versus Washington, suggesting that they will statistically be better off against those two clubs.

Also in their favor is a magnificent 8-0-2 run, which has seen them climb the standings and nearly clinch a playoff spot.

But other teams are hot too, most notably the Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs and their New York rivals.

Washington has a 9-1-0 steak going and while other teams may fear them, the Isles certainly shouldn't. After all, the Caps have yet to beat them in regulation this year, and have a history of playoff setbacks.

The Maple Leafs and Rangers pose the biggest threat. Both teams are on rolls, and they could bump the Isles to a dreaded matchup against either Pittsburgh or Boston.

The Pens have done a number on the Isles this season, winning four of five games. They also have added unprecedented firepower to their ranks and are clearly one of the best teams in the conference.

Boston is also an undesired first-round opponent because they are nearly impossible to score against. Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask has stopped 94 of 99 Islanders shots this season and is among the league's best in nearly every goaltending category this year.

That leaves the Capitals and Canadiens as preferable targets with perhaps more emphasis on the latter. Montreal is the only Top 4 team with a losing record in their last 10 games. They've also been outscored by the Islanders this year and lost the season series.

But to get Montreal as a first-round enemy, the Islanders will have to top Toronto in the standings. And to do that, the Isles will most likely need three important wins against Carolina, Philadelphia and Buffalo respectively. While all three clubs have been eliminated from playoff contention, the Islanders have a 3-4-0 record against the three teams in games this season.

Meanwhile, the Rangers and Maple Leafs both have winning records against remaining opponents in terms of total games played. The Rangers are 5-2-0, while the Leafs are 6-2-0.

That means the battle for a favorable playoff opponent could be difficult and the only thing certain is a thrilling last week of hockey.

Kenny Lindberg is an award-winning journalist with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Chico State. Lindberg proudly covers the New York Islanders as a Yahoo! Contributor. In 2003, he served in Iraq as a U.S. Army combat engineer.

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