New York Islanders Face Florida Panthers: Playoff Push Continues On Long Island

 

It’s generally assumed that 54 points will earn a team a berth in the 2013 NHL Eastern Conference playoffs. The New York Islanders (21-16-5, 47 points), currently 7th in the standings, need only seven more points in their last six games to capture the eighth seed in the postseason bracket.
 
Expectations in Uniondale are high, as this team is aiming for a spot higher than eighth by the end of the regular season.
 
And with a relatively easy schedule remaining, the Islanders should be able to take care of business and make the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The trick will be learning how to deal with teams that are looking to play spoiler, which is usually the late-season role the Isles have held over the past few years.
 
The Islanders will take on the visiting Florida Panthers (13-22-6, 32 points) at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum tonight at 7:00PM EDT (MSG+ and WRHU 88.7FM). The Panthers, no doubt, will be eager to prevent the Islanders from solidifying playoff position.
 
Both teams enter tonight’s contest coming off losses on Saturday – the Panthers were beaten at home by the league-leading Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1, while the Islanders lost a 1-0 overtime thriller at the Coliseum to their cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers.
 
The Isles hold a 2-0-0 season-series edge over the Panthers, winning 4-3 in Sunrise, FL on Mar. 16 and again on Mar. 24, by a score of 3-0 on Long Island.
 
If the Panthers can take something positive from either of those two results, it’s the fact that despite being down 0-3 in the third period of the Mar. 16 game, they rallied to tie the Islanders with three goals in less than two minutes of game time.
 
The Islanders can ill-afford a mental lapse like that in tonight’s game, their last home tilt of the abbreviated season. They are looking to sweep the season series against Florida for the first time since 1993, which is when the Panthers franchise was established.
 
New York has allowed two goals or less in its past eight games, a testament to how well starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has been playing lately. Nabokov is currently sporting a 2.50 goals-against average to go with his .911 save percentage on the year.
 
During the month of April, however, his numbers have been outstanding: 6 GP (4-0-2), a 1.14 GAA and a .952 SV%. The Islanders hope to ride Nabokov’s hot hand in net again tonight against a Panthers team that’s ranked 25th in the NHL in goals scored per game (2.3).
 
Florida is dangerous on the power play, though. The Panthers convert just under 21% of their chances with the man advantage, good for 7th in the league overall.
 
It’s unlikely that the Isles will take a matchup against the last-place Panthers for granted, considering the added motivation that a potential playoff spot has created for this team. Considering the playoff-type atmosphere in the Coliseum last Saturday night, the Islanders – and their fans – are aware of the importance of games this late in the year.
 
New York has basically been playing postseason games all month long, each contest more important than the last. There’s no time for a letdown at this point in the season, a point Isles head coach Jack Capuano will certainly hammer home before tonight’s game.
 
With his constant refrains of “battle level” and “no passengers” – both in reference to the team’s intensity – Capuano has him team believing that a playoff berth is a privilege, not a right.
 
The coaching staff and the players are all too aware of what it’s like to be in the Panthers’ position; now that the tables have turned, the Islanders are poised to take advantage.
 
 
 
Projected lineup:
 
26 Moulson – 91 Tavares – 24 Boyes
12 Bailey – 51 Nielsen – 21 Okposo
6 Joensuu – 53 Cizikas – 17 Martin
40 Grabner – 10 Aucoin – 13 McDonald
 
47 MacDonald – 3 Hamonic
14 Hickey – 11 Visnovsky
2 Streit – 4 Martinek
 
20 Nabokov
60 Poulin
 
 
 
 
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