Game Preview: New York Islanders vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Raleigh, NC -- the New York Islanders haven’t beaten the Carolina Hurricanes in two previous meetings this season, but are hoping the third time is the charm tonight. The Isles will take a 14-5-2 road record into PNC Arena in search of their first victory against the franchise formerly known as the Hartford Whalers.

The Hurricanes are the only Eastern Conference team that the Islanders have yet to defeat during this truncated 2013 NHL season.

Both games previously played against Carolina took place at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum: the Hurricanes won 6-4 on Feb. 11 and 4-2 on Feb. 24. The ‘Canes will likely see a very different Isles team from the one they beat twice in Uniondale, however.

The Islanders (24-16-5, 53 points) are 11-1-2 in their last 14 games and still have not lost a game in regulation during the month of April. Their recent run of good form can be attributed mostly to solid goaltending from veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov, who has posted a 10-1-2 record and a 1.74 GAA in his last 13 starts.

Nabokov also owns an 8-1-1 career record against Carolina, on the strength of a 2.04 GAA in 11 starts against them.

The Isles will likely start Nabokov in tonight’s game; he’s been the team’s iron man in net and has accounted for all but one of the Islanders’ 24 wins. And with a chance to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006-07 if everything breaks the right way, the Isles will need another solid game from their seemingly ageless goalie.

New York sits in sixth in the conference standings, two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and one point ahead of the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators. Clinching a postseason spot is a possibility for the Islanders tonight, but will require some help from the Winnipeg Jets, a team the Isles beat 5-4 in their last game on a shootout winner from centerman John Tavares.

With a Jets loss in regulation against the Washington Capitals tonight, the Islanders would only need a single point from their game against the Hurricanes to officially punch their playoff ticket. The Isles would also make the postseason with a combination of a regulation win and a Jets overtime or shootout loss. For a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1992-93, the prospect of simply making the postseason is strong motivation for a young team and a success-starved fan base on Long Island.

The Hurricanes (18-24-3, 39 points) will try to play the role of spoiler – a role typically reserved for the Islanders in recent seasons – and will need a strong performance from star center Eric Staal, who has 49 points (18 G, 31 A) this season.

Carolina’s leading goal scorer Jiri Tlusty (21 G) will also need to make an impact similar to the one he made in the team’s last game against the Tampa Bay Lightning – in which he recorded two goals – if the Hurricanes are to have a shot at winning tonight’s game.

Tlusty also notched two goals and two assists in the 6-4 victory over the Isles on Feb. 11.

For the Islanders, tonight’s game plan will revolve around Tavares and his line mate, winger Matt Moulson, as both players seem to relish any opportunity to play the Hurricanes. Tavares has nine goals and eight assists in his last seven games against the ‘Canes, while Moulson is not far behind with four goals and five assists during his four-game point streak against Carolina.

Regardless of how the goals come tonight, the Islanders will be happy to have them. The month-long push for the playoffs is wrapping up, and the team is likely looking forward to joining the ranks of the teams bound for the postseason.

A win tonight would go a long way towards making that a reality.

 

Projected lineup:

Moulson 26 – Tavares 91 – Boyes 24

Bailey 12 – Nielsen 51 – Okposo 21

Grabner 40 – Aucoin 10 – McDonald 13

Joensuu 6 – Cizikas 53 – Martin 17

MacDonald 47 – Hamonic 3

Hickey 14 – Visnovsky 11

Streit 2 – Strait 37

Evgeni Nabokov 20

Kevin Poulin 60

 

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