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by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
Poti and Gervais set to return to the lineup

With the playoff race still as tight as ever seven teams and nine points separate 8th and 14th in the Eastern Conference the Islanders are getting healthy at the right time.

For the Washington game on February 4, the Islanders had a season-high five players scratched due to injury Alexei Yashin, Shawn Bates, Tom Poti, Radek Martinek and Bruno Gervais.

"The guys we've called in have stepped in well," said Brendan Witt, who's missed only one game all season, despite sacrificing the body game in and game out. "It happens with injuries. Guys have to step up when they get more ice time. It's a physical sport and takes its toll on your body. Whoever is up the team has to stay within the same system and keep it simple."

Poti and Gervais are set to return after missing four and seven games respectively. Poti leads the team's defense in points with 22, while Gervais has already reached a career-high six assists in one season, and is one point away from tying his career high of seven points in one season.

"We've missed Poti a lot, especially on the power play and in those last minute plays," said head coach Ted Nolan. "He's had a tremendous year so far. We're really excited to get his back, as well as Bruno, has been chomping at the bit to get going. Some injuries take a little longer to recover than you expect. He's excited about playing and when you add that enthusiasm into the group of guys we already have it should make the team even more enthusiastic."

With players starting to fall to injury, the Islanders had a rare stretch of games where they faced seven different opponents in seven games, but that streak halted when the Islanders took on the Atlanta Thrashers for the second time in less than a week on February 1.

For the next month, starting with the Montreal Canadiens game last week, the Islanders will face six opponents twice within the same month. They include Montreal (Feb. 3 and 24), Washington (Feb. 4 and Mar. 3), Philadelphia (Feb. 7 and 27), New Jersey (Feb. 8 and 17), Boston (Feb. 10 and 15) and Toronto (Feb. 13 and 22). The Islanders have gone 7-6-2 against these teams so far this season.

"It doesn't really matter who we face," said Witt. "It's going to be tight all the way until the end. You have to look at the last 30 games like a mini-playoff."

Because of the early season road trip out West, the Islanders have not left Eastern Standard Time since their game against Dallas on November 15. The Islanders have only one more game against the Western Conference, and that's at home against the St. Louis Blues on March 1.

Despite the return of Poti and Gervais, the Islanders will still have to face upcoming opponents without their captain as well as Bates and Martinek. The Islanders have been able to ride the injury bug, picking up points in seven straight games, and will have to continue to do so stay with the playoff pack.

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