The New York Islanders' longest winning streak of the season is helping them make a charge for the playoffs. With 22 games remaining for the Eastern Conference-worst Tampa Bay Lightning, it may be too late for them to salvage their season.
Despite an injury-depleted defense, the Islanders look for their longest winning streak in more than four years and beat the lowly Lightning for the third straight time on Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum.
New York (29-25-7) has won a season-high five straight after losing its previous seven. It's the Islanders' longest run since winning six in a row from Dec. 21-31, 2003. The surge has the Islanders in 10th place in the East - but one point behind Boston, Philadelphia and Buffalo for seventh.
"We're trying to make the playoffs, that's what's on our minds," Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro said. "We dug ourselves a hole, and now we have to dig ourselves out."
|The Islanders are in the midst of a five-game winning streak that has got them back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. They hope to keep up the pace against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Nassau Coliseum tonight. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)
Opponents haven't scored more than two goals in any of their last three straight games against New York, which has been playing without defensemen Brendan Witt (knee), Chris Campoli (shoulder) and Bruno Gervais (oblique). The Islanders also are without blueliner Andy Sutton, who tore a hamstring in the closing seconds of a 3-2 win over San Jose on Monday and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
New York won its first game without Sutton, beating Washington 3-2 in a shootout Wednesday night. Miroslav Satan and Josef Vasicek helped the Islanders rally from a two-goal deficit and Mike Comrie had the lone shootout tally.
But DiPietro has been perhaps the biggest key to the Isles' recent success. The All-Star has started each game during the winning streak, and has surrendered just five goals in his last three contests.
DiPietro stopped 32 shots against the Capitals, including all three shootout chances. He has started both of New York's games against Tampa Bay (25-28-7) this season, posting a 0.96 goals-against average.
In the teams' first meeting on Nov. 1, DiPietro had 28 saves to lead the Islanders to a 4-0 win. Entering this season, New York had lost eight straight against Tampa Bay, which is currently last in the East with 57 points.
The Lightning had earned points in five straight games (4-0-1) before losing 4-3 in overtime to Buffalo on Wednesday night. With less than 2 1/2 minutes left in regulation, Tampa Bay's Johan Holmqvist gave up goals 36 seconds apart to Thomas Vanek, who completed the hat trick 2:25 into the extra session.
After the loss, Lightning coach John Tortorella erupted briefly in the locker room.
"You better get it figured out, because I'm not going to be around it," he said.
Brad Richards and Andre Roy scored for the Lightning. Richards, the subject of recent trade rumors ahead of next week's deadline, scored twice in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Isles on Dec. 8.
Vincent Lecavalier continues to lead Tampa Bay with 32 goals and 76 points, but has only one assist in two games against New York this season.