BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- No one needs to explain the game of inches to the New York Islanders.
A perennial underdog, the newbies to Brooklyn are once again in the Stanley Cup playoff hunt. The Islanders have tasted the postseason -- earning playoff berths twice in the past the eight seasons -- but have come up short in their effort to advance.
They have become hockey's version of Sisyphus, but could this be the season they actually get the boulder to the top of the mountain?
Coach Jack Capuano and the boys know this tale too well and don't need any reminders of what it takes to play deep into the spring.
Last season, the Islanders controlled their own destiny but went 4-7-3 in the last 14 games. Then they lost Game 82 in a shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets. That loss cost the Islanders home-ice advantage in the first round, as New York ended up playing the Washington Capitals and was eliminated in seven games.
With a 7-1-0 record in their past eight games, including a four-game win streak, the Islanders have a six-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division. And this time they understand what is at stake.
"Our leaders and our key guys have really picked it up," Capuano said after Tuesday's victory over the Penguins. "To be honest with you, there are some other guys that need to pick it up. During this stretch, our guys know how tough it is to get back to the playoffs and they want to get there and they're leading by example. So, the accountability they are bringing to our team right now and to the younger guys, that's going to make or break us down the stretch. Hopefully our younger guys can feed off of what those guys are doing right now."
During the team's current winning streak, the players are finding ways to win and getting contributions throughout the lineup. This team wants more than just another one-and-done ending.
"It takes 82 games to get into the playoffs and whatever position you're going to be in and one point decided home ice for us last year, and that was a big difference-maker," captain John Tavares said. "It came down to a shootout last year in Game 82 and we're fighting to get home ice and keep climbing up the standings. Each point is crucial. Each game is crucial. When you go through it you get an idea of the focus, the mindset and you've got to be ready to play."
After Tuesday's win, Capuano sent out a message to certain unnamed players on the team.
Anders Lee scored the winning goal by battling in front of the net and creating enough havoc to allow him to tip in a shot from the point.
It didn't go unnoticed by Capuano.
"He's done it and some other guys need to do it, to be honest with you," Capuano said. "I'm not going to point or single anybody out, but it's a game of inches and you have to fight for every inch that's on that ice, and he battled in front. We get the shots through and that's what he does for our hockey team. That's what you're going to need, especially come playoff time against good teams."
When asked to describe Lee's game, Capuano said, "Fearless -- that's it. Sacrifice. Other guys don't do it. Other guys need to do it."
If the Islanders don't collectively "do it" for the rest of the season and into the Stanley Cup playoffs -- if they get there -- don't be surprised if changes are made during the offseason. Capuano has been behind the bench for six-plus seasons and has done a solid job, but this team and its fans deserve more than a playoff tease.
A possible first-round matchup against the crosstown rival New York Rangers would be an amazing series. It would be grit against talent. The city and the hockey world would be abuzz.
However, before anyone gets ahead of themselves, the Islanders still have plenty of work ahead of them as they claw for every inch.