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Isles, Devils set to begin home-and-home series

by Dan Rosen
ISLANDERS (28-29-9) at DEVILS (37-24-5)


Last 10: New York 4-5-1; New Jersey 5-4-1

Season Series: The Islanders have won two of the three games so far in regulation. All three games have been decided by one goal. Each team has a 1-0 victory in the season series. The Islanders got there's this past Sunday.

Big Story: For the Islanders, this is the second of three straight games against the Devils. They beat them 1-0 at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday and play them again at home on Saturday. The Devils are looking to build off Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Rangers.

Team Scope:

Islanders: They want to believe they're still in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but they're seven points back of eighth place and they entered Wednesday in 13th place.

Nevertheless, the Islanders are playing like a team that still believes. They have won back-to-back games against playoff-caliber teams in Boston and New Jersey. They won both games by one goal, including Sunday's shutout of the Devils that gave Anders Nilsson his first career win and shutout.

The Islanders have not played since Sunday, and they lost ground with Winnipeg's win on Monday over Buffalo. It's not a pretty picture, but it's one the Islanders believe they are still in.

Devils: After suffering one of their most lackluster losses Sunday on Long Island, the Devils regrouped and put together one of their most impressive third periods of the season Tuesday. They scored two goals on Henrik Lundqvist in the final 20 minutes and added an empty-net goal to beat the Rangers, 4-1.

It was the kind of win the Devils needed after barely giving the Islanders much of a test over the weekend. Ilya Kovalchuk snapped a nine-game goal scoring drought with a tally 49 seconds into the first period. David Clarkson continued to pile up the goals in his career season. He now has 26 after scoring Tuesday. Even Ryan Carter got into the act with his first goal since Nov. 19, a span of 38 games.

But, now the Devils have to get up for another big game. Really, they're all big at this time of the year. The Devils are still looking for as high as a four-seed in the Eastern Conference, though first they have to catch the fifth-place Flyers, who have two more points

"When you come off an emotional win like you just did, the next game is always a tough one trying to remanufacture that again," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said Wednesday according to The Record. "You listen to the Rangers talk about the game and they came off an emotional game against Boston and couldn’t get it back against us the next night. We're facing the same type of situation here (Thursday), so we have to make sure we don't fall into that."

Who's Hot: It's hard to say anyone is hot on the Islanders. They haven't played since Sunday, and they scored only one goal then. But, it was Kyle Okposo's second in the last three games and rookie Casey Cizikas had his third assist in six games since being recalled. For the Devils, Kovalchuk and Elias each had 2 points against the Rangers. Clarkson has 4 points in his last four games.

Injury Report: The Islanders are missing goaltenders Al Montoya (upper body) and Rick DiPietro (groin). ... The Devils will get Alexei Ponikarovsky back in the lineup. He missed the last three games with a sprained MCL. Zach Parise told reporters in New Jersey that his left hand is just fine. He injured it Sunday, but played in Tuesday's game. The Devils are still missing Travis Zajac (Achilles) and Henrik Tallinder (blood clot).

Stat Pack: Ilya Kovalchuk's nine-game goal scoring drought was his longest since his nine-game drought from Dec. 13-30 in 2008. He had an eight-game drought early last season.

Puck Drop: "That was the longest I went without a goal," Kovalchuk said following Tuesday's win, clearly forgetting about his drought late in 2008. "It was hard especially since we weren't doing well, so you put a little more pressure on yourself. Maybe I was over-passing sometimes, and (Tuesday) I was shooting."
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