Of the three teams fighting for the last available playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders are the only one with two games remaining. They can't afford to lose either one.
If New York can keep its postseason hopes alive by beating the league-worst Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon, the team can only hope the playoffs are still within their grasp later in the night.
While the Islanders (38-30-12) will need a bit of help to make the playoffs, one thing is for sure, they must win their final two regular-season games to have any chance of qualifying. They enter the weekend one point behind ninth-place Toronto and two back of Montreal for the conference's eighth and final postseason berth.
The only game left for both the Maple Leafs and Canadiens is against each other on Saturday night. If Montreal wins that game, New York would be eliminated regardless of its outcome, but if Toronto wins, that leaves the door open for the Islanders if they beat the Flyers.
"I believe in positive things, and good things usually happen to people who work for it," Isles coach Ted Nolan told the team's official Web site. "We're just glad to be still alive, and it's time to get focused for the next one."
New York closes its regular season on Sunday night against Atlantic Division champion New Jersey.
The Islanders stayed in the playoff race on Thursday, defeating Toronto 5-2 thanks to three consecutive goals in the third period. Toronto tied the game at 2 early in the third, but Jason Blake answered less than two minutes later with the game-winner, his career-high 40th goal of the season.
"Forty goals is a great feeling, but the bigger concern was winning this game," Blake said. "Considering we got the win and we're still alive, it feels good to hit a milestone like that."
The win was the Islanders' second straight - both as they faced playoff elimination - after dropping four in a row.
"I don't care who we play. If we play the way we did tonight, we can beat anybody," said goalie Wade Dubielewicz, who stopped 28 shots on Thursday in place of Rick DiPietro.
DiPietro has missed the Islanders' last five games with post-concussion syndrome, and is not expected to return anytime soon.
The Islanders have won four in a row against Philadelphia (21-47-12), but have lost both matchups against the Flyers without DiPietro in net. Mike Dunham, now backing up Dubielewicz on the New York depth chart, was the Islanders' goalie in both of those losses.
While the Islanders are fighting for a playoff spot, the Flyers are trying to avoid establishing a new franchise low for points in a season. In the team's 39-year history, its worst finish was a 58-point season in 1969-70. Philadelphia needs to win its final two games just to match that.
The Flyers, coming off a 3-2 loss to New Jersey on Thursday, face Eastern Conference-best Buffalo in their finale on Sunday.
When the Flyers and Isles last met, Andy Hilbert's third-period goal carried the New York to a 4-3 win March 24 in Philadelphia. The Islanders are 3-0-0 at the Wachovia Center this season.
|Apr 07 '07||NYI 4 at PHI 2||R. Park|
|Mar 24 '07||NYI 4 at PHI 3||A. Hilbert|
|Feb 27 '07||PHI 5 at NYI 6 - OT||T. Hunter|
|Feb 07 '07||PHI 0 at NYI 2||V. Kozlov|
|Jan 18 '07||NYI 4 at PHI 2||M. Sillinger|
|Jan 02 '07||PHI 3 at NYI 2||R. Potulny|
|Nov 30 '06||PHI 3 at NYI 2||M. Knuble|
|Nov 09 '06||NYI 3 at PHI 1||R. Park|