ISLANDERS (3-1-2) at LIGHTNING (4-1-0)
TV: MSG PLUS 2, SUN (HD)
First of four meetings this season. The Lightning won three of the matchups on the 2009-10 schedule, although the Islanders prevailed 5-4 in the most recent game on Feb. 13. Rocket Richard Trophy co-winner Steven Stamkos
led all scorers with four goals. Nate Thompson
, who started the season with New York and was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay in January, scored a goal against each team in the series -- for the Isles on Dec. 21 and for the Bolts on Feb. 13. They accounted for his only goals of the season.
These surprise squads come off victories Monday in which they knocked off the NHL's last two undefeated teams. The Lightning, a trendy pick as a comeback team in the Eastern Conference this season, haven't disappointed under new coach Guy Boucher. But the Islanders are proving themselves to be for real as well. They start Thursday's action tied for first place in the Atlantic Division with the perennially powerful Penguins.
Some early-season adversity came New York's way when sophomore sensation John Tavares
suffered a concussion in the opener against Dallas and missed three games. But the No. 1 pick in the 2009 Entry Draft came back strong, recording an empty-net goal in a victory against Colorado and connecting for the game-winning power-play goal in Toronto, as the Islanders took home a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs.
"It was just a great ending," said Tavares, an Ontario product. "I think it was special being in my hometown so it's definitely nice to contribute to the big win, first overtime win for the guys. So it's just great to be back after missing a few games."
Coming off a 6-0 loss to Florida in the Panthers' home opener Saturday, Tampa Bay responded by edging Dallas 5-4 behind a pair of power-play goals from newcomer Dominic Moore
. Sean Bergenheim, another offseason acquisition and an ex-Islander, also tallied, while Stamkos collected a goal and 2 assists.
"I thought tonight was one of our more complete efforts," Moore said. "Tonight I thought we were much more on the same page."
In addition to Tavares having goals in two straight, James Wisniewski has points in all four games he's played (1-4-5) while averaging over 20 minutes on the Islanders' blue line. PA Parenteau
(1-5-6) has 3 assists in the last two games and is tied for the team scoring lead with Blake Comeau
(3-3-6) and Josh Bailey
Stamkos has picked up right where he left off last season, compiling 5 goals and 9 points in the first five games for the Lightning. Steve Downie
(2-4-6) continues to combine offensive ability and toughness, with three multi-point games and 13 penalty minutes already. Moore has 4 goals after scoring 10 all of last season, which he split with the Panthers and Canadiens.
Bailey left New York's game Monday due to a hip flexor and fellow forward Trent Hunter was scratched with a foot injury. Already on injured reserve are defenseman Mark Streit
(shoulder surgery) and forwards Kyle Okposo
(shoulder surgery) and Rob Schremp (back). … Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier
missed Monday's game with a hand injury, while defenseman Mattias Ohlund
is sidelined with inflammation in his right knee.
Even before his OT goal, Tavares was a star against the Leafs in the faceoff circle, winning 86 percent of his draws (12 of 14). … Stamkos reached 150 career points with his effort against the Stars. He has 104 points in 87 games since the start of the 2009-10 season.
Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson
lost all three of his starts against the Lightning last season, so don't be surprised to see Rick DiPietro
start Thursday. Also don't be shocked if the color of DiPietro's equipment is a little different -- he's been breaking in pink leg pads, blocker and catching glove in order to raise awareness about breast cancer during Hockey Fights Cancer month.
"It's something we've been talking about doing for different causes throughout the season to raise money," DiPietro said. "There's definitely things I want to do with different charities. Cancer research is near and dear to my heart, and my wife's heart. There's lots of stuff I want to do with charities that deal with the military, wounded soldiers that come back, so you might see some Army fatigue pads."