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Lightning continue playoff push vs. Islanders

by Brian Compton

ISLANDERS (28-35-9) at LIGHTNING (39-24-9)


Last 10: New York 5-4-1; Tampa Bay 5-1-4

Season series: This is the third and final game this season between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Each team has a shootout victory, with the Islanders winning the most recent game 2-1 on Jan. 16 at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Big story: Tampa Bay is battling for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Lightning enter Thursday in third place in the Atlantic Division but trail the second-place Montreal Canadiens by two points and have two games in hand. Tampa Bay is all but assured of a first-round matchup with Montreal, so having home ice could be crucial for the Lightning.

Team Scope:

Islanders: New York will wrap up its brief two-game road trip with hopes of playing the role of spoiler. The Islanders, who are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven seasons, know they will need to contain the likes of Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat if they hope to come away with another victory after beating the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

"They're a good team," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the Lightning. "This is a good year for them. They've stayed healthy for the most part. It starts in net with [Ben] Bishop as we know. They're gonna score some goals. [We] continue to work on what we need to work on and go down there and try to play 60 minutes of solid hockey again."

Lightning: It didn't take long for Stamkos to regain his scoring touch after returning on March 6 from a broken tibia that forced him to miss 45 games. Stamkos, who has scored in back-to-back games and had a hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 19, admitted Wednesday he's still adjusting to life without Martin St. Louis after the former captain was traded to the New York Rangers on March 5. Stamkos now finds himself skating alongside Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn, which is expected to be one of coach Jon Cooper's combinations Thursday.

"It's different playing without Marty, let's not kid ourselves," Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times. "When I played with Marty, he was the guy who wanted the puck all the time and I would do anything I could to get the puck in his hands and then tried to get open. ... We were off the rush transition.

"Now, playing with different guys who have different styles, maybe I've got to not be up ice as much. Maybe it's staying a little lower and getting the puck yourself and coming up the ice."

Who's hot: Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck has three goals in the past four games and defenseman Travis Hamonic has a goal and two assists in the past two. … Palat has five goals and nine assists in his past nine games; Stamkos has seven goals in his past seven and 21 in the 27 games he's played this season for the Lightning.

Injury report: New York captain John Tavares (knee) is out for the season. Forward Michael Grabner and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky are day-to-day with concussions. … Lightning defensemen Brian Lee and Mattias Ohlund have missed the entire season with knee injuries.

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