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Game Preview: Islanders at Panthers

by Greg Picker / New York Islanders
The New York Islanders look to increase their lead atop the Metropolitan Division, as their four-game road trip continues at 7 p.m. tonight in Sunrise, Florida.


Although the Isles playoff chances are much more secure than Florida’s, Frans Nielsen is adamant the Panthers aren’t the only team in desperation mode taking the ice on Saturday.

“We want to fight for that top spot [in the Eastern Conference] so I think there are two desperate teams playing,” Nielsen said. “Usually when teams are desperate you don’t see a lot of mistakes and see a lot of high percentage plays with both teams getting pucks deep and trying to grind the other team out.”

The Panthers are thick in the battle for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot. Islanders’ fans can look back just a couple of years to feel familiar with the Panthers’ situation of looking for that playoff spot in the final six weeks of the season.
 
“They have a really good young team too and I remember the excitement knowing you had a chance, the importance of every game and how fun it was going down that stretch,” Frans Nielsen said following Friday’s practice in Sunrise. “I’m sure they have the same feeling in the room we had a couple of years ago.”

The Isles and Panthers determine their season series tonight, with the road team having won each of the previous meetings this season. The Isles pulled out a 4-3 shootout victory at BB&T Center in November, before falling to the Panthers in early February at Nassau Coliseum.

The Isles pulled off a 4-3 win over the Central Division leading Nashville Predators on Thursday thanks to Brock Nelson’s game-winning goal with 6:08 remaining. Combined with an overtime loss in Dallas, the victory in Tennessee gives the Isles points in each of the opening two games of the trip.

Casey Cizikas and Eric Boulton returned to the lineup Thursday. Cizikas centered the fourth line after missing eight games and Eric Boulton saw his first action since Dec. 11.

Another Islander, forward Matt Martin, is eligible to return to the lineup tonight after serving a one-game suspension. Martin has only played 10 seconds of this road trip after being handed a game-misconduct on his first shift in Dallas.

Florida has earned points in three of its last four games, but the Panthers were dealt a significant blow when former Isles goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya were injured on Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Luongo managed to return to the game, but was ruled out for at least two contests including tonight’s game against the Isles. The Panthers also announced Montoya will be out of the lineup for two-to-four weeks. As a result, Florida called up veteran netminder Dan Ellis from the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage and Sam Brittain from the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones.

Unlike the 2013 Islanders, the Panthers made a splash at the deadline by acquiring future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr from the New Jersey Devils. In three games with Florida, Jagr has recorded a goal and an assist.

Being one of the top Isles defensive forwards, Nielsen knows the challenge Jagr brings with the puck in the offensive zone.

“He’s so strong on the puck you have to stay close to him. You have to be around him to take his time away because he’s going to make some plays. He’s one of the biggest talents to ever play this game and you can see he still has it.”

The puck drops between the Islanders and Panthers from the Sunshine State at 7 p.m.

New York Islanders
42-21-3 (87 points – 1st in Metropolitan Division, 4th in Eastern Conference)
19-12-3 road
Florida Panthers
28-23-14 (70 points - 5th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference)
14-10-7 home
7:00  p.m.
BB&T Center
Sunrise, FL

Television:
MSG+
Play-by-play: Howie Rose
; Color: Butch Goring
Channel Finder

Radio: WRHU 88.7 FM, LI News Radio 103.9 FM
Play-by-play: Chris King; Color: Greg Picker
Islanders News:
- Islanders 4, Predators 3 (Mar. 5)
- Post-Game Video (Mar. 5)
- Hometown Hero (Mar. 6)
Islanders player to watch
Nick Leddy - Defenseman
Leddy


The Islanders defenseman played a pivotal role in the Islanders 4-3 win over the Predators on Thursday by tallying a goal and an assist. Leddy’s nine goals leave him just one shy of hitting double-digits for the first time in his five-year career. If the season ended today, Leddy’s +17 would be the highest of his career, surpassing a +15 mark set in the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup winning 2012-13 campaign.
Panthers player to watch
Jaromir Jagr - Forward

There might be no team the 43-year-old Czech star likes playing against more than the Islanders. Jagr has tallied 152 points against the Isles in 106 career games. In his second game following his acquisition from New Jersey, Jagr scored a goal and an assist en route to being named first star in a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay. With 717 career goals, Jagr is one away from passing Phil Esposito for sole possession of fifth on the NHL’s all-time list.
New York Islanders previous game lines
Forwards
27 Anders Lee 91 John Tavares 12 Josh Bailey
86 Nikolay Kulemin51 Frans Nielsen18 Ryan Strome
40 Michael Grabner 29 Brock Nelson15 Cal Clutterbuck
17 Matt Martin – 53 Casey Cizikas – 13 Colin McDonald

Defensemen

2 Nick Leddy 55 Johnny Boychuk
44 Calvin de Haan 3 Travis Hamonic
14 Thomas Hickey11 Lubomir Visnovsky

Goaltenders
41 Jaroslav Halak
30 Michal Neuvirth
Florida Panthers previous game lines
Forwards
36 Jussi Jokinen - 27 Nick Bjugstad - 24 Brad Boyes
11 Jonathan Huberdeau - 16 Aleksander Barkov - 68 Jaromir Jagr
73 Brandon Pirri - 21 Vincent Trocheck - 12 Jimmy Hayes
19 Scottie Upshall - 17 Derek MacKenzie - 82 Tomas Kopecky

Defensemen
51 Brian Campbell - 5 Aaron Ekblad
7 Dmitry Kulikov - 33 Willie Mitchell
72 Alex Petrovic - 44 Erik Gudbranson

Goaltenders
39 Dan Ellis
Sam Brittain


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