Could the Islanders be a big player in the Playoffs this year?

You hear a lot of talk about the Isles being the weakest team in the playoffs this season–the only team who should go down without a fight. But as we near the postseason, it appears more and more likely that the Lightning could be in trouble in the first round this year.

First off, this is the team that has proven time and time again that they can definately win when they need to win. They dominated critical matchups with the Sabres to give themselves some distance in the playoff chase, and despite sliding badly late in the season, they never relinquished their slim lead. Also, their favorable records against the top of the Eastern Conference (particuarly the Lightning) suggests that a playoff run isn’t out of the question.

Despite injuries to Garth Snow, Roman Hamrlik, Jason Blake, and Rick DiPietro (the flu isn’t really an injury, but it still kept him out) the Isles rallied around AHL standout Wade Dubliewicz (probably misspelled) and beat the tough Philadelphia Flyers on the road. Last nights win proves that they can win without the hot play of Rick DiPietro.

Finally, the Bolts seem ripe for an upset this season. They’ve never been treated as a favorite, which is the position they’ll be put in this playoffs. Put them against the Isles, a team they’ve struggled with all year, in a matchup that everybody expects them to win, and they might crack. Also, they haven’t proven that they can score goals if Martin St. Louis isn’t involved. Take him out of the game, and the rest of the team has much more trouble scoring.

In other news:

-It appears likely that the Nashville Predators will become the second team to make the playoffs that didn’t exist last time the Ranger$ got in. They are now sitting in the catbird’s seat in the race for the final seeds in the West after a win at MSG last night.

-The Kings’ goose appears cooked. After going 3-7 in their last 10 games, they’ll need luck in addition to winning hockey in their final 6 games to catch the surging Oilers.

-Is Glen Sather some kind of moron? Despite having an unlimited budget, he’s playing hardball with R.J. Umberger. This isn’t brain surgery, Slats. Give the guy a contract or somebody else will jump on him the first chance they get.

-Last but not least, what’s the best race going down to the wire in the NHL? It may not be the race for the final spots in the Western Conference. It may be the jockeying for position in the East. With Boston, Toronto, and Ottawa separated by 1 point respectively, home ice might be critical for all teams if they want to move on. Particuarly between 4th seed Ottawa and 5th seed Toronto, I’ll pick whoever has home ice to win that series.