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Islanders aim to keep rolling against Hurricanes

by Matthew Mankiewich

HURRICANES (16-16-9) at ISLANDERS (14-21-7)


Last 10: Carolina 3-3-4, New York 5-3-2

Season Series: This is the third of four games, and the Carolina Hurricanes have a five-game winning streak going, sweeping the three-game set last season and winning the first two in 2013-14, the most-recent a 1-0 victory on Nov. 7 at PNC Arena. Overall, the New York Islanders are 4-9-2 in their past 15 games versus the Hurricanes, and that includes a four-game season sweep in 2011-12.

Big Story: The Islanders are in the midst of their longest winning streak of the season, and it comes against some of the better teams in the NHL. They dealt the Minnesota Wild and Boston Bruins rare home losses before beating the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime on home ice Thursday night. The Hurricanes have a couple of solid wins as well, ending a five-game slide by beating both the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals in overtime on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner began the New Year much the same way he ended 2013. He entered January with four goals in his past four games, then completed his second career hat trick, including the overtime game-winner, in a 4-3 win against the Capitals at Verizon Center on Thursday. Skinner scored the third-period equalizer after the Capitals came from behind to open up a 3-2 lead.

"They're an explosive team, they have a couple of guys who can score," Skinner said. "It was good to get back in the game, minimize the damage and get back to our game plan, which is more of a tight game and playing more in their end. We got away from it a little there, but it was great to bounce back.

"It's nice. I think mentally more than anything it's nice to get over that hump and win a couple in OT. It's a big win."

Islanders: Fans at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum were not happy with the decision to leave forward Kyle Okposo off the U.S. Olympic roster and they took the opportunity to make their feelings known when Okposo scored in overtime against the Blackhawks.

"When that puck went in and I heard everybody chanting 'USA', it was pretty special," Okposo said. "I just wanted to go out and play my game. I didn't prepare any different."

As for the Islanders' recent success, Thomas Vanek, who joined the team via trade from the Buffalo Sabres in October, believes the top line is now starting to find chemistry.

"It takes a while, it's not just a week or something," said Vanek, who skates with Okposo and No. 1 center John Tavares. "I think now we see it, we read each other better, I think we're making plays that early on we didn't. We're connecting on them now, and even though we're getting points, I think we can get even more."

Who's hot: Skinner enjoyed his second consecutive three-point night Thursday. He has seven goals and nine points in his past five games, and his other career hat trick came less than a month ago on Dec. 5 against the Nashville Predators. Captain Eric Staal has five points in his past two games. He has 37 points (21 goals, 16 assists) in 36 career games against the Islanders. … Okposo's two-point night extended his point streak to eight games (six goals, seven assists), which is the longest current streak in the League and matches his career high. It also moved him into a three-way tie with Chicago's Patrick Sharp and Washington's Alex Ovechkin for 10th place in the NHL with 42 points. Vanek extended his point streak to seven games with a goal Thursday.

Injury report: Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (lower body) is expected to miss this game, but could return Sunday. Forward Riley Nash (lower body) is still at least a week away, and forward Jiri Tlusty will be out 2-3 weeks following appendix surgery. … Islanders forward Josh Bailey (lower body) has missed three straight games and is questionable for Saturday. Defensemen Radek Martinek (back) and Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) are out.

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