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by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
Islanders and Leafs tied going into Thursday's matchup

Both the Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs will look to overtake the other in the Eastern Conference standings when they face off at the Nassau Coliseum Thursday night. The teams sit tied for ninth in the East, one point behind eighth-place Carolina and trailing seventh-place Montreal by two points.

"All the teams are still close," said head coach Ted Nolan. "Teams can go on a long winning streak like Pittsburgh and then they can lose a few in a row, so it all evens out. We knew it would be tight, but we didn't know it would be this tight."

How tight is it? The 11th-place New York Rangers are only ten points behind fourth-place Pittsburgh. Even the 13th-place Florida Panthers are only nine points out of a playoff spot.

"As a coaching staff we looked at the standings a month and half ago and there isn't too much of a difference now," said Nolan.

The last time Toronto and the Islanders matched up, the Leafs were holding a one-point lead, but the Isles evened the point totals by defeating them via a shootout 3-2 last Tuesday. The first star of the game was Rick DiPietro, who had to be superb in the third period, overtime and shootout to secure the victory. His 16 saves in the third period alone guaranteed the Islanders at least a point in a game they were out-shot 41-20. Frans Nielsen and Viktor Kozlov converted in the shootout.

The Islanders found themselves down 1-0 after the first period, but deficits haven't fazed them one bit as they have come from behind to win a number of games during their recent stretch. Their most recent contest -- a 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins -- saw the Islanders come back to win after falling behind 3-1 in the second period.

"Coming back has to do with the character on this team," said Nolan. "Any minute, no matter what the score is, we think we have a chance to get at least a point. It also has to do with the rest we give this team, with some guidance from the off-ice conditioning and medical staff. The guys are healthy and ready to go."

Rick DiPietro will get the start on Thursday. Said Nolan: "We kind of feel like we owe Rick one. He almost single-handedly won the game for us in Toronto. It would be nice to be great in front of him on Thursday."

Jason Blake missed Wednesday's practice at the Coliseum for personal reasons, but will re-join the team on Thursday morning. Same for Arron Asham, who is suffering from the flu¦

A sidenote from Monday's classic: a simple miscommunication from the press box downstairs during a crazy final minute of regulation led to the naming of all Islanders as the three stars in the team's 6-5 victory. Naturally, Ryan Malone, Sidney Crosby and Mark Recchi deserved consideration. Our apologies¦

Ted Nolan will be featured in the March installment of HBO "Real Sports," hosted by Bryant Gumbel. The piece is expected to debut on March 5 and be repeated throughout the month¦

For all of you Long Island students out there, see you on the Havoc Zone line on Thursday.



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