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Isles, Leafs begin home-and-home series

by Brian Compton
ISLANDERS (19-21-6) at MAPLE LEAFS (23-19-5)


Last 10: New York 6-4-0; Toronto 5-5-0.

Season Series: This is the second of four meetings between the teams. Toronto took the first matchup, a 5-3 decision at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 23. The clubs will meet again Tuesday night in New York.

Big Story: Some might think the Islanders are no longer in the playoff race. But this club enters Monday's action winners of three straight and just nine points behind the eighth-place Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference. The Isles are just two points off the pace they were on at this stage in 2007 -- the last time they qualified for the postseason.

"Every game we play now is absolutely huge for us, especially against these teams," said Isles center John Tavares, who has a League-best 12-game point streak. "[These are] conference teams that we are battling in position with. We are still fighting hard and we still believe in here. We are really coming together."

Team Scope:

Islanders: New York made it three in a row when Tavares scored his second goal of the night at 3:58 of overtime to lift the Isles to a 2-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Coliseum. Tavares -- who had already extended his point streak when he scored midway through the second period -- is now just 10 points behind Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin for the NHL scoring lead.

"The way he's skating, protecting the puck, his vision and his creativity -- it's the best I've seen from him so far," Isles coach Jack Capuano said of his All-Star center, who now has 19 goals and 29 assists.

Maple Leafs: Toronto has been hindered by a lack of offense as of late. The Leafs have lost four of their last five games and have scored only 9 goals along the way. Four of those tallies came in one game -- a 4-1 victory against Minnesota last Thursday.

But the Leafs followed up that victory with a 3-1 loss on home ice to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. Toronto could have moved into playoff position with a victory, but instead enters Monday's game two points behind Washington for the No. 8 seed.

"We know it's a big one," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said after the loss. "We talked a lot about how big this game was. We're definitely disappointed with the outcome."

Who's Hot: Tavares has 8 goals and 13 assists during his 12-game run, while PA Parenteau has 2 goals and 5 assists over his last five contests. Kyle Okposo has flourished on the top line alongside Tavares and has 11 points in his last 12. Meanwhile, goalie Evgeni Nabokov is 5-1-0 with a 1.32 goals-against average in his last six starts. … Joffrey Lupul has a goal and 3 assists in his last three games for Toronto.

Injury Report: New York will be without Rick DiPietro (sports hernia, knee swelling), Mike Mottau (concussion) and Marty Reasoner (hand). … Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles and winger Colby Armstrong, who are both suffering from concussions, hopes to return during this home-and-home series. Darryl Boyce is day-to-day with a back injury.

Stat Pack: The Islanders are 12-for-12 on the penalty kill over their last five games. … This is the first home-and-home series between these teams since Feb. 28-March 2, 1974, when Toronto swept the Islanders and outscored them 11-6.

Puck Drop: "I think we are finding some consistency in our game. We are getting some excellent goaltending with Nabby and obviously John and his line are certainly doing their part." -- Isles defenseman Andrew MacDonald
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