RALEIGH, N.C. -- For the New York Islanders, Tuesday could be a big night.
After missing out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs five straight seasons, the Islanders have a shot at clinching a berth in the Eastern Conference. If New York beats the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Winnipeg Jets lose to the Washington Capitals, the Islanders are in.
If there are any jitters among the team, they didn't show after the morning skate.
"It's an exciting week for us," Islanders captain Mark Streit said. "We've been playing pretty well, and the mindset has been to take it game by game. Whatever happens with Winnipeg happens. But it's getting closer. We'll concentrate on the game and how we want to play as a team."
If the past 14 games are any indication, New York will bring its best against Carolina. The Islanders were outside the playoff picture before going 11-1-2. Now they occupy sixth place in the East, two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the fifth seed, and one point ahead of the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.
"Once you get closer, it makes you that much hungrier," forward John Tavares said. "You can see the drive (that) we really want to get to the playoffs. We have a great opportunity and we still have to accomplish our goal."
The past five seasons have been lean for the Islanders, whose best showing was a 35-win campaign in 2007-08. But things are changing within the organization. With strong goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov and Tavares providing an offensive catalyst, the team has a stable foundation.
"This is my fifth season, and it wasn't always easy the past couple years," Streit said. "But we've come a long way and the team has improved a lot. We have a great chemistry. The results speak for themselves. It's very positive. But it's one shift after another. You don't want to think too much ahead about the playoffs. The game tonight is Carolina. They're a good team, they have a lot of offense. So we have to bring our 'A' game."
Tavares, in particular, is at his best against the Hurricanes, who have been eliminated from playoff contention. He has nine goals and eight assists in his past eight games against them. He said he believes the Islanders' new-found focus is owed to a sense of team discipline.
"We've done a good job of understanding the focus and intensity and the work ethic to our system," Tavares said. "Early in the season, we played well in spurts at times, and sometimes things slipped period to period or game to game. Once you have success like that, the confidence breeds in the locker room and we feel we can win every game we play."
Should the Islanders find their way into the playoffs, a Long Island postseason will be a new experience for nearly everyone. Only defenseman Radek Martinek has worn an Islanders sweater in a playoff series, dating to 2003-04.
"It will be our first time, so it will be a unique experience the first time you go through it," Tavares said. "In saying that, we still haven't accomplished that goal yet. But you want to play for the Cup and ultimately it's what you look forward to."
Here are the projected lineups for Tuesday's game between the Islanders and the Hurricanes:
Matt Moulson - John Tavares – Brad Boyes
Josh Bailey – Frans Nielsen – Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner – Keith Aucoin – Colin McDonald
Jesse Joensuu – Casey Cizikas – Matt Martin
Travis Hamonic – Andrew MacDonald
Lubomir Visnovsky – Thomas Hickey
Mark Streit – Brian Strait
Scratched: Matt Carkner, Joe Finley, Radek Martinek, Eric Boulton, Marty Reasoner, David Ullstrom, Anders Lee
Jiri Tlusty – Eric Staal – Alexander Semin
Chad LaRose – Jordan Staal – Tuomo Ruutu
Jeff Skinner – Riley Nash – Patrick Dwyer
Nicolas Blanchard – Tim Wallace – Kevin Westgarth
Tim Gleason – Justin Faulk
Jay Harrison – Joe Corvo
Bobby Sanguinetti – Jamie McBain
Injured: Cam Ward, Drayson Bowman, Joni Pitkanen, Tim Brent