With less than 10 weeks remaining before the end of the regular
season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to make a strong push
for their first playoff appearance in three years.
Returning home to face the New York Islanders might help them
take another step in that direction.
The Lightning look to continue their strong play at St. Pete
Times Forum on Thursday night when they open a four-game homestand
against an Islanders team seeking to avoid matching its longest
losing streak of the season.
Tampa Bay (23-21-11) has one of the worst road records in the
NHL at 9-15-5, but strong play at home has the Lightning thinking
postseason. They’re currently tied with Florida and the New York
Rangers for the final playoff spot in an Eastern Conference so
tight that the 13th-place Islanders (23-25-8) lurk three points
The players know they have little room for error.
“We’re in a playoff mode right now,” Martin St. Louis said
after scoring for the fourth straight game in Tuesday’s 2-1 victory
at Atlanta – another team among the bunch seeking the last playoff
spots. “It was good to get the win in regulation. It was big
because they didn’t get a point.”
The Lightning, who are 7-1-2 on home ice since dropping three in
a row there Dec. 7-23, are 7-0-2 in the Islanders’ last nine
visits, with shutout wins in the last two. Tampa Bay hasn’t lost at
home to New York in regulation since a 3-1 defeat March 16,
Mike Smith made 30 saves Dec. 5 at home to lead the Lightning
over the Islanders 4-0. Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and Jeff Halpern
and Victor Hedman scored for Tampa Bay while Vincent Lecavalier,
Andrej Meszaros and St. Louis each added two assists.
St. Louis, who leads the Lightning with 43 assists and 60
points, has five goals and three assists in his last eight
Steven Stamkos, who had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 victory at
New York on Dec. 21, looks to extend his point streak to a career
high-tying eight games – a feat he previously accomplished Oct.
12-Nov. 2. The second-year center has four goals and six assists
during his current run.
The Islanders may be envious of that kind of scoring punch. The
league’s second-lowest scoring team this season, New York is
averaging 1.2 goals during its five-game losing streak. All the
defeats during the current streak have come in regulation for the
Islanders, who took three games to overtime during their
season-worst six-game skid that opened 2009-10.
New York has also dropped four straight on the road and is
trying to avoid a winless four-game trip.
“The key for us is to stay upbeat, stay positive,” Islanders
goaltender Rick DiPietro said following Sunday’s 2-0 loss at
Florida. “Take the things that we did well from this game and move
on. There’s no time to pout. It’s about getting back on track and
winning as many games as you can going into the stretch.”
Winning may be a tall order for the Islanders regardless of who
starts in net for Tampa Bay. Mike Smith has earned both Lightning
wins over New York in the season series, while Antero Niittymaki
made 26 saves in Tuesday’s win and is 5-1-1 with a 1.75
goals-against average in his last seven starts.
The options don’t look as appealing for Islanders coach Scott
Gordon. DiPietro lost his third straight start Sunday, while Dwayne
Roloson is 0-2-0 with a 4.04 GAA in his last two starts at Tampa
Malone has no points in his last four games, but facing the
Islanders could help him get back on track. He scored two
third-period power-play goals and matched a career high with four
points in the Dec. 21 victory in New York.
Lecavalier has six goals and three assists in his last six games
versus the Islanders.