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New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers

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GAME: New York Islanders (32-26-10-4) at Florida Panthers (26-29-14-3).

TIME: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

The New York Islanders look to pad their lead for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot as they visit the Florida Panthers.

The Islanders took another step toward making their third straight trip to the playoffs, scoring three third-period goals in a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Cliff Ronning had two assists for the Islanders, who hold a six-point lead over ninth-place Buffalo.

New York is 2-3-1-2 in its last eight games.

"At this time of year, it's such a grind to get points because it's a dogfight," Islanders coach Steve Stirling said. "We're not trying to look over our shoulders, but every time Buffalo inches up you can't help it. Anytime you can get two points, it takes a little pressure off."

The Panthers have won two straight following a four-game winless streak (0-3-1), including a 3-2 overtime victory Saturday night over the New York Rangers.

Olli Jokinen netted the game-winner 2:54 into overtime for the Panthers, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit. On Thursday at Montreal, Jokinen scored in regulation and again in the extra session to lift the Panthers.

The Panthers are nine points behind the Islanders with 10 games remaining. New York has won each of the first three meetings in the season series.

"Early in the year, a tie would have been good, but not now," Jokinen said. "We need two points every game."

STANDINGS: Islanders - 78 points, 3rd place, 16 PB, Atlantic Division. Panthers - 69 points, 2nd place, 26 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Islanders - Trent Hunter and Mariusz Czerkawski, 23 goals; Oleg Kvasha, 31 assists; Trent Hunter, 46 points; Eric Cairns, 182 PIM. Panthers - Jokinen, 22 goals, 24 assists and 46 points; Darcy Hordichuk, 147 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 14): Islanders - Power play: 16.7 percent (46 for 276), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.7 percent (262 for 313), 18th (tied). Panthers - Power play: 15.6 percent (41 for 262), 20th. Penalty killing: 86.1 percent (272 for 316), 3rd.

GOALTENDERS: Islanders - Rick DiPietro (18-16-5, 3 SO, 2.45 GAA); Garth Snow (14-14-5, 1, 2.73). Panthers - Roberto Luongo (23-28-13, 7, 2.29); Steve Shields (3-4-1, 0, 3.42).

SEASON SERIES: Islanders, 3-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 31; Islanders, 4-2. At New York, Jason Blake scored with 8:12 left and added an empty-net goal to help the Islanders rally back from a 2-1 deficit.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Islanders - 11-16-7-3 on the road; Panthers - 14-12-6-2 at home.


Associated Press
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