-- It's the 800-pound gorilla in the dressing room. One team says they don't think about it. The other one can't avoid questions about how to get rid of it.
"It" is the Philadelphia Flyers
' 15-game winning streak against the New York Islanders
, a string they'll try to extend Thursday night when the teams meet at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders haven't beaten the Flyers since Feb. 12, 2008, when they won, 4-3, at the Coliseum. Since then, they've lost by big margins (five games by three or more goals), small margins (nine one-goal games), in overtime (once), in shootouts (twice) -- in short, just about every way possible, except a shutout. This season's tally: five games, five Flyer wins -- all in regulation. Those 10 points are the difference between the sixth-place Flyers (82 points) and the 13th-place Islanders (72).
Isles coach Scott Gordon
, who wasn't there when the streak started, but has yet to beat the Flyers in his two seasons behind the bench, knew that the first question he'd face after the morning skate would be about his team's inability to beat Philadelphia. He was right.
"For me, it's 11," he quipped when asked about the streak and his involvement in it.
"It's obviously not anything we're excited about, that we're losing these games," he added. "But we're not that far off. We're certainly losing to a team that presents some challenges for us in a few areas. We're right there; we just haven't been able to finish the deal. It's going to turn eventually, and I hope it's tonight."
The inability to "finish the deal" fits the last meeting between the teams. The Isles led 2-0 in the second period at Philadelphia on March 9, only to surrender three goals and see the Flyers extend the streak with a 3-2 victory.
In all, four of the five meetings this season have been one-goal games -- and the Flyers have won them all.
The Isles' biggest problem in playing the Flyers is simple -- they're one of the NHL's smallest teams, and the Flyers are one of the biggest. In this case, size does matter.
"They've exposed every weakness we had in the games we've played against them," forward Richard Park
said. "They've played well. We haven't for stretches. Things have gone their way. We have to end that."
The size differential means the Islanders have little room for error.
"We have to make good decisions with the puck," Gordon said when asked how his team can snap the streak against a team that's physically stronger than his club. "The less time they spend in the offensive zone -- the last game we played against them we did a really good job against them for two periods. But they got some power plays in the third period and some fortuitous bounces (the winning goal deflected into the net off Isles defenseman Mark Streit
). That's kind of the way things have gone against them."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette
, who took over in December and has been behind the bench for four of the five wins this season, said he's more concerned with his team's scramble for points in the playoff race than with a streak. The Flyers start the night tied with Montreal and Boston for the last three playoff berths, but Atlanta is just two points back and the New York Rangers
are only four points in arrears.
"I don't put a lot of stock into streaks," Laviolette said. "The Islanders are capable of beating anybody. We didn't have any luck against Atlanta (the Thrashers swept all four games), and I feel we're capable of beating them.
"I don't know if I'd put a whole lot into it, They've got a good team and they're going to be ready to play tonight. We need to make sure we're doing the same thing."
But Peter -- doesn't a streak like that make your players think they're always going to find a way to win?
"That would be great if we were confident like that," Laviolette said. "But there's a whole lot of work that has to go into it. I'm a big believer in the process and how you play the game and making sure you do the work and do things the right way. If you do that, you can win hockey games."
Philadelphia forward Arron Asham
, an ex-Islander, admitted he's cognizant of the streak, but said his team's playoff push is far more important.
"It's always in the back of your mind," he said of current team's dominance of his former club. "But for us, we have to come in here and play a solid 60 minutes. Every game from here on in is huge for our team -- we're fighting for our lives right now. We're going to come in here and we're not going to be thinking about any streak we have going. We just want to play our game and get two points."
Perhaps the most unique perspective belongs to Isles goaltender Martin Biron
, who went 9-0 against New York while playing for Philadelphia to help build the streak -- and has lost all three starts against his former team this season. He's expected to get another crack at ending the streak on Thursday night.
"Every year is a different thing," Biron said when asked if players think about a streak like this one. "You can't look at the last year or two years ago -- the teams are so different, the makeup has changed. You look at this year, and some of the losses we've had, there's three or four one-goal games -- a couple 2-1s, a couple 3-2s. Those are situations we feel it's important to respond to those one-goal games.
"Those one-goal games may be the difference between us being in 11th (place) and being in eighth and battling for a playoff spot. In that sense, that's more important that anything that's happened in the past between the two teams."