PENGUINS (47-23-6) at ISLANDERS (32-33-11)
TV: ROOT (HD), MSG PLUS (HD)
Pittsburgh 7-2-1; New York 4-4-2
Thursday's finale of this week's home-and-home series between the Islanders and Penguins marks the final meeting of the season between the teams. The Pens took the first four matchups before the Isles handed them a shocking 5-3 loss on Tuesday night. Pittsburgh has outscored the Isles by a 17-5 margin in their four head-to-head wins this season.
These Atlantic Division foes wrap up their season series Thursday on Long Island. The Pens' pursuit of the top seed in the Eastern Conference took an unexpected turn for the worse as their loss to the Isles on Tuesday coupled with a win for the East-leading New York Rangers extended Pittsburgh's deficit in the standings to three points with six regular-season games remaining entering Wednesday's action. The Isles, meanwhile, have been impressive as of late, earning a 3-2 road win over the Southeast-leading Florida Panthers on Sunday before Tuesday's triumph in the Steel City.
Coming into Tuesday's game against the Isles, Pittsburgh was one win away from matching its franchise record of 11 straight home wins set back in 1990-91. But that all changed when Marc-Andre Fleury
allowed five goals on 18 shots before being relieved by Brad Thiessen
in a lopsided loss to New York.
What made the loss even more shocking was that it occurred despite the Penguins outshooting their division rivals by an overwhelming 54-25 margin. But if the loss provided any positive impact on the club, it served as a reminder that defensive awareness and conversions on scoring chances are of the utmost importance as the postseason looms.
"The playoffs are right around the corner," winger Arron Asham
told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "If we play like this, it will be a quick exit."
New York is on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention, but they have reeled off consecutive victories over top-four teams in the Eastern Conference thanks to a balanced scoring attack that has been lacking for much of the season. Frans Nielsen
and Josh Bailey
each posted 3-point games on Tuesday and the Islanders shocked the hockey world by upending the highest scoring team in the NHL.
"We've been good the last little while here," coach Jack Capuano told Newsday. "Our guys are still young for the most part, they're still finding their way. These are strides, for sure. Wins like these are something the guys should be proud of."
Since the return of Sidney Crosby
, Tyler Kennedy
has blossomed with 4 goals and 4 assists in eight games. … Kyle Okposo
has scored a goal in three consecutive games for New York, adding an assist in Tuesday's win over the Pens.
The Pens will be without Kris Letang
(lower body) Ben Lovejoy
(knee surgery) and Brent Johnson
(lower body), while Matt Niskanen
(upper body) and Joe Vitale
(shoulder) are listed as doubtful for Thursday's game at Nassau Coliseum. … Rick DiPietro
(sports hernia surgery) will miss the remainder of the season for New York, while fellow goalie Evgeni Nabokov
(lower body) is doubtful after leaving Tuesday's win after the second period.
Tuesday's win for the Isles marked their first-ever win at Consol Energy Center. Pittsburgh had won 13 straight home games overall against the Islanders, with their last loss to New York coming on Dec. 21, 2007.
"When you have a record like that in a team's building, sometimes you just need to break the goose egg and come out with a victory," Josh Bailey
told NHL.com. "Hopefully winning there [Tuesday] can kind of crack that."