The New York Islanders take on the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at BB&T Center at 7 p.m. Watch on MSG+, MSG GO or NHL.TV. Listen live on 88.7FM WRHU, 103.9FM LI News or online at radio.com/islanders. Read the game preview. Check the game notes.
Thomas Hickey could "possibly" to return to the Islanders lineup on Thursday, after sitting out six straight games as a healthy scratch. Johnny Boychuk took the optional morning skate with the likely extras, signaling he could be coming out if Hickey goes back in.
HICKEY POSSIBLE TO RETURN:
Head Coach Barry Trotz said Wednesday that he wanted Thomas Hickey to get in a game or two ahead of the playoffs, to help keep the defenseman fresh for the postseason. He didn't confirm that Hickey will be back in the lineup on Thursday, but it appears likely.
Hickey's had a difficult second half of the season. After missing two months (Dec. 17 - Feb. 26) with an upper-body injury, Hickey has found himself in and out of the Islanders lineup, as Trotz has found three steady pairs. The 30-year-old has sat as a healthy scratch for six straight games.
"The way we are set up, every defenseman brings a bit of a different element," Trotz said. "Some guys bring an element on the power play, some on the penalty kill. Some with their bite,. With Thomas, there's some duplicate style and role, so he's in a group of guys that have similar roles and there are some guys I feel are a little ahead of him right now. It's nothing that Thomas has done."
Trotz said he understands it's a difficult situation for seven-year veteran, but said Hickey's been a "true pro." The coach added that just in the same way Devon Toews burst onto the scene and secured a spot in the Isles top six, Hickey will have a chance to reassert himself when he gets back into the lineup.
"The good thing is, organizationally there is great depth on defense for guys who are able to play and the emergence of some young guys," Trotz said. "There's going to be opportunity. There were people who jumped when Thomas went down. There were people who jumped in and took that opportunity, there will be that opportunity again. When Thomas gets in, he'll take that opportunity."
ISLES PLAYING FOR HOME-ICE, CHANCE AT DIVISION:
The Islanders are in control of their destiny, as far as home ice is concerned. The Isles (99 points) lead the Pittsburgh Penguins (97 points) with two games remaining for each team. It's simple, win both, and the Isles will host a game one for the first time since 1988.
The Metropolitan Division is still in play as well. If the Islanders can earn one more point than Washington (102 points) on Thursday - the Capitals host Montreal - it'll set up winner-take-all game on Saturday night for the division title. Washington can clinch the division with a win, or finishing the night with the same amount of points as the Islanders.
PANTHERS PROJECTED LINES:
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Jayce Hawryluk
Frank Vatrano - Henrik Borgstrom - Colton Sceviour
Dryden Hunt - Riley Sheahan - Troy Brouwer
Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle - MacKenzie Weegar
Mark Pysyk - Josh Brown