A resurgent Alexei Yashin helped lift the New York Islanders into contention in the Atlantic Division before suffering a sprained knee. Finally back on the ice, Yashin has picked up right where he left off.
Yashin, who has a goal in each of his two games since returning, looks to lead the Islanders (17-12-3) to their third straight victory when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes (17-14-4), a team that's also seeking its third consecutive win.
Criticized often for his lack of production over the last few seasons, Yashin appeared driven to silence doubters in 2006-07. The big center recorded 10 goals and 18 assists in 22 games, helping the Isles to challenge the New York Rangers and New Jersey for the Atlantic lead.
Yashin, though, was injured Nov. 25 in a win over Washington, and missed the next eight games - during which the Islanders went 3-5.
Yashin's timing and energy apparently didn't suffer during his time off, as he recorded a goal in New York's 6-0 win over Atlanta in Saturday. He followed that up by scoring what turned out to be the winner in the second period of the Islanders' 4-3 victory over the Rangers on Tuesday.
"We can create great scoring chances, great opportunities," said Yashin, who already has 30 points this season after recording only 66 last season. "So far, it's nice to see it's been going in with consistency."
Jason Blake recorded his fourth career hat trick Tuesday as the Isles kept the pressure on the first-place Rangers and moved within two points of the second-place Devils.
Blake has teamed with Yashin to power the Isles offensively, recording 19 goals and a team-best 35 points.
New York will look to Blake and Yashin to lift it to its third win in as many matchups with Carolina this season. Yashin has been particularly tough for the Hurricanes to defend, as he recorded four assists in the Islanders' 4-3 overtime victory Oct. 21 and had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win Nov. 22.
Blake had a goal in the first meeting and recorded a goal and an assist in the second contest. Both games were played at Nassau Coliseum.
Newly acquired center Randy Robitaille is expected to make his Islanders debut Friday, and would be facing the Hurricanes for the second straight game. Robitaille played for Philadelphia in its 2-1 loss to Carolina on Tuesday, then was dealt to New York on Wednesday along with a 2008 fifth-round draft pick for forward Mike York.
Robitaille had five goals and 12 assists in 28 games for the Flyers this season.
The Hurricanes' victory over the Flyers on Tuesday was their second straight win by one goal. Carolina defeated Tampa Bay 3-2 on Saturday to avoid a third consecutive loss.
On Tuesday, Carolina had 42 shots on goal and Anton Babchuk broke a 24-game goal drought with the game-winner early in the second period.
Former Flyer Justin Williams extended his point streak to five games by opening the scoring in the first period. Williams has four goals and two assists during his run.
"We had lots of opportunities," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought our guys played pedal-to -the-metal offensively and they got the looks they wanted and either hit the post or missed the net."
Laviolette has won five of his 10 games against the Islanders, whom he coached for two seasons before taking over the Hurricanes before the 2003-04 season.