ISLANDERS (23-22-8) at HURRICANES (17-28-7)
Last 10 -- New York 6-4-0; Carolina 6-4-0
Season series -- The Islanders have won both meetings this season by using the same script -- build a lead, blow the lead, win after regulation time. They wasted a 3-1 third-period lead but won 4-3 in a shootout at home on Oct. 21. New York jumped to an early 3-0 lead at the RBC Center on Nov. 13, saw Carolina tie the score and force overtime -- but won 4-3 on Kyle Okposo's goal in the final minute of OT.
Big story -- After plumbing the depths of the NHL's basement for most of the first four months of the season, the Hurricanes appear to be getting their act together. They're coming off their best back-to-back performances of the season -- beating Boston 5-1 at home on Sunday and whipping the Rangers in New York by the same score on Wednesday.
In contrast, the Islanders have hit some bumps after playing well over the last several weeks. They were beaten 4-2 at home by New Jersey on Saturday, then got smoked by Washington at the Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, losing 7-2 despite keeping Alex Ovechkin off the scoresheet.
Islanders -- New York has done almost nothing right in its last four periods of hockey. The Isles were outshot 14-3 in the third period against New Jersey, which scored twice to end New York's six-game home winning streak. The Capitals simply overwhelmed the Islanders three nights later, lighting up the scoreboard for four first-period goals and coasting the rest of the way.
"It was just a bad game all around," said goaltender Rick DiPietro, who played the last two periods after Dwayne Roloson was torched in the opening 20 minutes. "When we don't play our game, things like that happen."
Hurricanes -- As they did in their two previous games, the 'Canes may be catching their opponents at the right time.
"We played two teams that are kind of struggling," said new captain Eric Staal, who leads the Hurricanes with 17 goals and is tied with Ray Whitney with a team-high 40 points. Staal had one goal against Boston and two against the Rangers -- both of which are mired in scoring slumps.
With 41 points, the 'Canes are just three away from catching Toronto and getting out of the Eastern Conference basement.
"This just goes to show the character that we have. It has not been an easy season," said goaltender Cam Ward, who has stopped 64 of 66 shots over the last two games. "We're one of the last-place teams in the league, but guys continue to come to the rink and are willing to work hard to try to better ourselves."
Who's hot -- Okposo has been the best Islander over the last month and is 6-3-9 in his last 10 games. … Staal has been one of the NHL's hottest scorers since getting the captain's "C" -- he has 7 goals in the four games since the move, helping Carolina go 3-1-0 in that span.
Injury report -- The Isles took a big hit on the blue line Tuesday when defenseman Jack Hillen sustained a broken jaw when he was hit by an Alex Ovechkin slap shot. He's expected to miss 6-8 weeks. … Carolina could get defenseman Joe Corvo (leg) back for this game. Forwards Scott Walker (upper body), Erik Cole (upper body) and Tuomo Ruutu (upper body) are still out.
Stat pack -- Despite losing their last two, the Islanders have 54 points, just seven more than they managed all last season. … Ward, who has a 1.56 goals-against average in his last four games, will likely make his 21st consecutive start. He's 9-2-1 with a 2.38 GAA and a shutout in 13 games against the Islanders. Staal has 14 goals in 21 games against the Isles.
Puck drop -- The Islanders are starting a four-game road trip that could determine whether they're legitimate playoff contenders or merely a team that's made some improvements after an awful season. Carolina hasn't given up on making the playoffs, though the 14-point gap is a huge margin to make up. But the 'Canes appear to be on the upswing, while the Islanders have to show they haven't peaked.