Preview: Islanders at Panthers
The New York Islanders look to move closer to clinching home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs when they start a short regular season-ending road trip against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night. The Islanders control their own destiny for second place in the Metropolitan Division with a two-point lead on Pittsburgh and sit three behind Washington - their final regular-season opponent Saturday.
New York, which can equal its most points (101) since totaling 104 in 1983-84 with a victory Thursday, clinched a playoff spot Saturday before missing an opportunity two days later with a 2-1 loss against former captain John Tavares and Toronto. “Any time you lose, it’s frustrating,” Islanders left wing Matt Martin told reporters after the setback. “There are ups and downs throughout the course of it and we were coming off a big high the other night.” New York tries to snap a four-game losing streak against the Panthers, who have won three straight contests - two of them coming against playoff-bound teams (Boston and Washington) - as Florida center Vincent Trocheck told reporters: “We came out with nothing to lose and played hard.” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov owns six assists in his last three games and is tied with Pavel Bure (1999-2000) for the franchise season record with 94 points.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG Plus (New York), FS Florida
ABOUT THE ISLANDERS (46-27-7): Right wing Jordan Eberle has scored in three straight games while recording five goals in his past five contests to pull within one of his sixth consecutive season with at least 20. “Jordan’s a good player, (but) he’s had a little bit of a difficult year finding the back of the net,” coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “If he’s going to get hot, this is the right time.” Center Mathew Barzal has three points in the last three games to push his team-leading total to 62 while forward Josh Bailey is second on the team with 55 after posting two goals and three assists in his past six contests.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (36-32-12): Barkov had three assists in the 5-3 victory over Washington on Monday and told reporters of tying Bure: “It’s a nice milestone for me. It means that I’m playing with really good players and we’re having fun and creating chances and scoring goals.” Barkov’s linemate Jonathan Huberdeau is also having a career season with 89 points after scoring five times and setting up two others his past five contests. Evgenii Dadonov, the third member of the team’s top line, is tied for third on the team with 69 points after posting three goals and three assists in his last three games.
1. Florida LW Mike Hoffman leads the team with 35 goals and is one shy of 300 points in his career, but has been blanked the last four games.
2. New York G Robin Lehner (24-13-5, .928 save percentage) reportedly sat out practice Wednesday because of a sore knee, but is on the trip.
3. Panthers G Roberto Luongo has won three consecutive starts and his next victory would be the 490th of his career.
PREDICTION: Islanders 4, Panthers 3