PANTHERS (21-17-10) at ISLANDERS (32-16-1)
TV: FS-F, MSG+ 2
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- One reason for the New York Islanders' success this season has been their ability to prevent short slumps from turning into long ones. They'll be trying to do that Tuesday when the Florida Panthers make their final regular-season visit to Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders have lost back-to-back games, against the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings, and a third consecutive loss would match their longest streak of the season. They enter the game in first place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It's a scary thing when you start losing; each game becomes more important," Islanders forward Matt Martin said after the morning skate Tuesday. "You want to cut the losing streaks down to a minimum, and hopefully we can get back on track tonight. Everybody else is going to freak out, but we still have confidence in this room in the team we have and where we are in the standings. We just have to go out there and play our game."
Lengthy losing streaks and slumps have plagued the Islanders the past several seasons and are a major reason New York has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs once since 2007. But the Islanders won five in a row and 10 of 11 following a three-game losing streak in late October and early November, were 7-1-1 in a nine-game stretch after losing three in a row in early December, and went 6-1-0 after losing two straight early in January.
Martin feels this team has the talent and makeup to avoid long droughts.
"When you start losing that pressure builds, things don't go right," he said. "It's like quicksand in a way. You want to end these things as fast as you can. You lose a couple in a row, you have to focus that much harder, get back to the basics, get back to the structure. We have great goaltending, pieces on the back end, pieces up front that we've added who have some experience going deep in playoff runs. And that experience has helped us this season."
It's a milestone night of sorts for Islanders captain John Tavares, who at age 24 will be playing his 400th NHL game.
"I didn't even know tonight was No. 400," he said. "It's my sixth year; that's still kind of crazy to think of. You don't take any day for granted. You certainly enjoy the ride, and I hope there are a lot more games ahead of me."
The Panthers are trying to end a two-game slide of their own, as well as avoid going winless on their three-game trip through the New York metropolitan area. Florida is coming off a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Monday after losing 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. They are 1-6-1 in their past eight games and are eight points behind the Washington Capitals for the second Eastern Conference wild-card berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"They're on a little bit of a slide but they're still in the playoff picture, and I think we're going to see a desperate team tonight," Martin said. "They have great goaltending and some guys who can put the puck in the net, so we have to be ready."
Jaroslav Halak will be back in goal for the Islanders after backup Chad Johnson made 15 saves in a 4-1 road loss to the Red Wings on Saturday. Coach Jack Capuano said there may be game-time lineup decisions made based on the health of some players. Fourth-line center Casey Cizikas took part in the morning skate; he had missed practice Monday after he tweaked something in Detroit, according to Capuano. Cizikas was able to play against the Red Wings despite the injury, and the Islanders said he will be able to play.
The Panthers did not hold a morning skate, but coach Gerard Gallant said an hour before the game that he's making a few lineup changes from Monday. Backup goaltender Al Montoya, a former Islander, will start for the first time since a 6-5 victory against the Calgary Flames on Jan. 9. Roberto Luongo has started each of the past eight games. Montoya is 2-0-0 against the Islanders in his career.
"It's back-to-back, and [Luongo] has played a lot of hockey," Gallant said. [Montoya] is going to play real well and real hard for us."
Gallant is also making two changes among his forwards, with Scottie Upshall and Tomas Fleischmann dressing in place of Sean Bergenheim and Shawn Thornton.
"It's a rotation type of thing," Gallant said of the changes up front. "Both of them have been skating real well, and it's an opportunity to get two new guys in."
The Islanders will have a different looking during warm-ups; they will wear jerseys with their fisherman logo from the mid-1990s.
"I've seen them," Tavares said. "Obviously it was a different time. It's part of the history here. Whether it's good or bad, we're proud to be Islanders, with whatever jersey we wear."
Here are the projected lineups:
Brandon Pirri - Nick Bjugstad - Jimmy Hayes
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes
Scottie Upshall - Dave Bolland - Jussi Jokinen
Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Tomas Fleischmann
Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad
Alex Petrovic - Dmitry Kulikov
Willie Mitchell - Erik Gudbranson
Scratched:?????????Sean Bergenheim, Shawn Thornton
Mikhail Grabovski - John Tavares – Josh Bailey
Anders Lee - Frans Nielsen - Ryan Strome
Michael Grabner - Brock Nelson - Nikolay Kulemin
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey – Lubomir Visnovsky
Scratched: Matt Donovan, Brian Strait
Injured: Eric Boulton (lower body), Kyle Okposo (upper body)
Status report: The Islanders returned forward Colin McDonald to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League before the game after they determined Cizikas would be able to go. McDonald was recalled Monday and practiced with the Islanders. He also took part in the morning skate Tuesday.
Who’s hot: Barkov, the second player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, scored one of Florida's goals Monday and has five points in the Panthers' past four games. … Tavares was named the NHL Second Star for January. He has nine points in his past six games. ... Halak is 9-1-0 against the Panthers, with a 1.78 goals-against average, a .941 save percentage and two shutouts.