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Islanders hope to keep sailing along

by Adam Schwartz

Nicklas Backstrom and the Washington Capitals host Brendan Witt and the New York Islanders tonight at the Verizon Center.
Wednesday night should significantly impact the NHL playoff races, with just one inter-conference game scheduled of the six contests.

At 7 p.m. the Tampa Bay Lightning play the Buffalo Sabres, the San Jose Sharks travel to New Jersey to face the Devils and the Washington Capitals host the New York Islanders.

Later, the Minnesota Wild travel to the Windy City to play the Chicago Blackhawks, the Calgary Flames square off against the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche do battle with the Anaheim Ducks.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

* The Lightning, who sit in last place in the Eastern Conference with 56 points, have a 10-14-4 record away from their home, the St. Pete Times Forum. The Lightning have allowed the most third period goals in the NHL, with 79.


* Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist, who has an .891 save percentage, has just one regulation loss in his last five games and has yielded 13 goals while facing 131 shots during that span.

* After winning five of six games, Buffalo has lost two in a row, but the Sabres are only two points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo has the second-best power play in the Northeast Division, with an 18.9-percent success rate.

* Buffalo right wing Ales Kotalik, who has scored at least 15 goals four times in his career, has not scored in his last 13 games. Kotalik, who has 14 goals this season, last scored Jan. 18 in Buffalo’s 10-1 victory against the Atlanta Thrashers.

* It may be time for San Jose coach Ron Wilson to give goalie Evgeni Nabokov a rest. Nabokov, who has started all but one of the Sharks’ games this season, has lost his last four games while giving up fewer than three goals just once during that span.

* San Jose right wing Steve Bernier, whose favorite team growing up was the Quebec Nordiques, leads the team with 123 hits – 30 more than any of the San Jose defensemen.

* New Jersey forward Patrik Elias, who was stripped of his captaincy this season by coach Brent Sutter, has six assists in his last five games; not coincidentally, the Devils have not lost in regulation during that span.

* Devils defenseman Sheldon Brookbank, who hadn’t played since Dec. 29, played 24:23 Monday in New Jersey’s 5-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes. Brookbank saw his most ice time of the season because top New Jersey defenseman Colin White was injured in the first period and didn’t return.


* Washington left wing Alexander Semin, who has a minus-5 rating in six career games against the Islanders, has three goals and three assists for six points in his last five games.

* The Islanders have won four games in a row and have surged into the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Despite allowing the most goals in the Atlantic Division with 174, coach Ted Nolan’s squad is just three points out of a playoff spot.

* Islanders right wing Trent Hunter, who was selected No. 150 overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Anaheim, has the most hits among Eastern Conference forwards, with 195.

* Capitals left wing Quintin Laing, who has a plus-5 rating, played 13:15 Saturday in Washington’s 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was the most he has played since Jan. 24 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

* The Wild have earned at least one point in their last three contests and are in first place in the Northwest Division with 73 points. Minnesota is five points ahead of the second-place Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.

* Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns, whose first job was as a paperboy, has the most takeaways in the Northwest Division and third-most in the Western Conference with 53.

* Chicago center Robert Lang, who has scored 20 goals six times in his NHL career, has scored just once in his last eight games.


* Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who scored 20 goals in his rookie season, has four goals and five assists for nine points in his last five games.

* The Stars, who are in first place in the Pacific Division with 79 points, have the League’s best penalty kill, with an 87.6-percent success rate.

* Dallas center Mike Ribeiro, who leads the team with 67 points, has the third-most giveaways in the NHL, with 71.

* Colorado defenseman Kurt Sauer, whose younger brother Michael was chosen by the New York Rangers in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, leads the team with a plus-16 rating.

* Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf, who leads the team with 64 points, is tied for the third-best plus-minus rating among forwards, at plus-26.

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