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Breaking down Islanders’ best NHL playoff possibilities

There is still the not-so-small matter of clinching, but with six games left in the regular season, it looks as though the Islanders will check the first box on their list of preseason goals and make the playoffs

The next thing to worry about: who they’ll face in the first round.

The Post breaks down four potential opponents in order of the most compelling matchups:

1. Devils

The math doesn’t favor the Devils’ chances to leapfrog Carolina for the top spot in the Metro, but if they do, the Islanders should quietly feel good about their chances of winning a potential series.

As good as New Jersey has been this season, the Isles would go into a series against the Devils with a huge advantage in net, and confident in their ability to wear down a team that doesn’t have much playoff experience and could lack in physicality.

Just this week, we saw the physical edge of the Islanders provide the difference in an eventual 5-1 victory in which three of New York’s goals came in the last five minutes.

That’s not to dismiss the Devils, who are building something special in Newark and whose skill at the forward positions would leave the Islanders with a handful to deal with.

Ilya Sorokin makes a save on Jack Hughes during an Islanders' win over the season. The Devils could be the best possible playoff matchup for Lane Lambert's crew, but it unlikely will happen.
Paul J. Bereswill

Jack Hughes is the sort of talent who could swing a playoff series, and the whole league will be watching to see what he does in his first postseason action.

But, especially compared to Carolina or Boston, this would be a winnable matchup for the Islanders.

2. Rangers

It’s not likely, but it’s still in play for the Rangers to jump two spots in the standings, win the Metro and set up the first playoff Battle of New York since 1994.

The storylines here would be irresistible.

Ilya Sorokin facing off against his friend and countryman Igor Shesterkin. Trade-deadline acquisitions Bo Horvat and Patrick Kane going against each other.

Artemi Panarin against the team he spurned in free agency and Mathew Barzal on a playoff stage at The Garden, if he manages to return from a suspected knee injury in time to play.

As for the Isles’ chances, they’d come in as the underdogs, but not without a fighting chance.

They beat the Rangers twice in three games this season, though the last match came before Christmas, so that can be essentially thrown out.

Even so, the Isles have a knack for giving the Rangers issues, and Sorokin seems to save his best for Madison Square Garden.

Noah Dobson pushes down Jimmy Vesey during an Islanders-Rangers game earlier this season.
NHLI via Getty Images

This would be must-see TV.

3. Hurricanes

The current Metropolitan Division leaders are the most likely opposition for the Isles in Round 1, and figure to be at least a little more beatable than the Bruins.

That isn’t to say, though, that the Isles would have an easy time getting by the ’Canes, who have easily handled the Isles in two of three matchups between the teams this year.

Sunday’s game in Raleigh, N.C., will serve as a sneak-peek of a potential matchup, as well as the first time we’ve seen these teams face off since Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov went down with an ACL tear.

The Islanders' Ryan Pulock battles Hurricanes' Sebastian Aho for the puck in a game earlier this season.
Getty Images

The injury to their third-leading scorer does give Carolina an air of vulnerability, but the ’Canes have made it to at least the second round in three of the last four seasons, and Rod Brind’Amour is one of the league’s best coaches.

Not unlike the Islanders, Carolina at its best can play a straight-line defensive style that suffocates opponents.

The 2.59 goals per game allowed by the Hurricanes is second only to Boston league-wide, and they’ve done it without Vezina-level goaltending.

Sorokin could be the great equalizer for the Isles here, but it would take something unexpected to pull off the upset.

4. Bruins

This is the team everyone wants to avoid, and the biggest reason the Islanders need to hold onto the top wild-card spot over the Penguins and potentially the Panthers.

Bruins' Jake DeBrusk celebrates after scoring a goal against the Islanders earlier in the season.
NHLI via Getty Images

The Atlantic Division leaders put together an absurd 57-12-5 record going into Thursday’s slate of games, and are on pace to break the all-time record of 62 wins in a season.

They were the fastest team in league history to reach 100 points and are on pace to tie the 1976-77 Canadiens for the most all time.

Unsurprisingly, they also beat the Islanders all three times the two teams played, including a 6-2 shellacking at TD Garden in the most recent affair.

The Isles would be massive underdogs if they faced Boston and rightly so.

That’s less a reflection on them and more on the Bruins, who have looked untouchable all year. Trying to figure out how to match up with David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron in a playoff series would be a mammoth task for Lane Lambert, and Linus Ullmark might be the only goaltender in the league who’s outplayed Sorokin this year.