Isles host red-hot Blues
NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders have spent the last week proving they can play with the best teams in the Eastern Conference. On Thursday night, the Islanders will get a chance to see how they stack up against the red-hot St. Louis Blues, who are the second-best team in the Western Conference.
The Islanders will host the Blues for the only time this season when the two teams square off at Barclays Center. Both clubs won Tuesday, when New York extended its point streak to five games with a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers while St. Louis kept rolling with a 3-2 overtime win over the East-leading Montreal Canadiens.
The Islanders (10-10-5) have gone 4-0-1 in their last five games -- a stretch in which they've beaten the Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, all of whom currently occupy a playoff spot -- to climb out of the NHL basement and move to the fringe of the East playoff race.
"It gives our guys a little bit of confidence that we can play with some of the top teams, record-wise, in the East," Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said.
Despite the recent surge, the Islanders still have a long road ahead if they want to reach the playoffs for the third straight season. New York is eight points behind the Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, who are tied for the two wild card berths.
"Means we've got a lot of work still to do," Islanders center and captain John Tavares said. "We've had some ups and downs and some frustration to start the year, some results we didn't get and some things maybe not go our way. Certainly playing a lot better hockey and we know we can still be a lot better."
Results-wise, it's hard to fare much better than the Blues (15-7-4) have lately. St. Louis is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games dating back to Nov. 15 to move within three points of the Chicago Blackhawks, who lead both the Central Division and the Western Conference.
Much like the Islanders, the Blues are looking to see if their recent play is sustainable. The game Thursday begins a four-game road trip for St. Louis, which is just 3-6-1 away from Scottrade Center. Six of its final nine games before the Christmas break will be on the road.
"It's going to be a real test for us," Blues goalie Jake Allen said. "Obviously, things haven't gone great for us on the road this year. It's a great opportunity to keep this thing going we had on our homestand."
The Blues would like to keep it going without the drama that accompanied the 4-0-1 homestand that concluded Tuesday. Four of the five games went to overtime.
"My biggest fear is we've had to put a lot of energy into these games. a lot of overtimes, a lot of 3-on-3 stuff, a lot of anxiety, a lot of close games," Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We'll see where our energy is. We've got to be really careful with ourselves right now."