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New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning @NHLdotcom
Islanders-Lightning Preview

GAME: New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Lightning.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Lightning lead 3-1.

TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

The Tampa Bay Lightning's top players are rolling, and the New York Islanders appear powerless to stop the Eastern Conference's top-seeded team.

The Lightning look to close out their first-round series at home when they take on the stumbling Islanders in Game 5.

Nikolai Khabibulin made 33 saves for his second straight shutout at Nassau Coliseum, and Martin St. Louis' third goal in two games pushed Tampa Bay to within one victory of the second round with a 3-0 win Wednesday night.

"We are getting better and better as the playoffs go on," forward Tim Taylor said.

Held without a point in the first two games of the series, St. Louis, the NHL regular-season scoring leader, has led the Lightning offensively in the last three contests. The speedy forward set the tone Wednesday with a short-handed goal in the first period.

Ruslan Fedotenko also scored, and Fredrik Modin's third goal of the series early in the third period ended any real hopes of New York returning to the St. Pete Times Forum with the series tied.

Instead, the Lightning will be looking to finish off a dominating performance against a team that has given them plenty of trouble over the past two seasons.

"Winning that game on Monday was big and to back it up tonight, it's even bigger," St. Louis said. "Monday means nothing if you don't back it up."

Lightning center Brad Richards added two assists Wednesday, giving him five points in the last two games.

A major source of Tampa Bay's confidence has been the play of Khabibulin, who hasn't allowed a goal since Jason Blake scored at 3:36 of the third period in Game 2, a 3-0 Islanders victory. Blake's second goal of that game came with Khabibulin pulled for an extra attacker in the third.

The Islanders won three of four regular-season games against the Lightning this season, but couldn't win - or score - at home. New York went 25-11-4-1 at Nassau Coliseum during the regular season.

"We're making it too easy for Tampa, we're wasting energy on ourselves," Islanders captain Michael Peca said. "Everybody has to have commitment, and if they don't, I'll be the first one to get in their face and tell them how disappointed I am."

As expected, New York came out skating aggressively in the first period of Game 4 in an attempt to grab the lead, but St. Louis' goal at 10:30 quieted a crowd that had little to cheer about during the two games on Long Island.

Now Isles fans may have to wait until October to cheer for their team again. Each game of this series has ended with a 3-0 score, and with Khabibulin frustrating New York, the Islanders might not have any more success generating offense Friday than they did in Games 1, 3 and 4.

"This was a must win for them," St. Louis said. "We knew they were going to empty the tank and we have to empty the tank ourselves, and more. You don't want to give them a chance, you don't want to give them any breathing area."

The Islanders, who had never been shut out three times in a series, need young goalie Rick DiPietro playing with confidence Friday. He did that in Game 2, making 22 saves for the shutout, but looked shaky Wednesday night, missing Modin's slap shot with his glove despite getting a clear look at the puck.

It's doubtful the Islanders have much chance of extending the series, let alone rallying to win it, without a contribution from Alexei Yashin. The big center has been held without a point, hounded by Taylor's checking line throughout the series. Yashin has 11 shots on goal in the four games, but has hardly been a factor.

"They've been outshooting us, but I still think that we're outchancing them," Taylor said.

Tampa Bay forward Cory Stillman sustained a lower body injury on his first shift Wednesday and didn't return. He is listed as questionable for Game 5.

If New York manages to keep its season alive Friday, the series would return to Nassau Coliseum for Game 6 the next night.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Islanders - 91 points; 8th seed. Lightning - 106 points; 1st seed.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Islanders - Blake, 2 goals; Mark Parrish, 2 assists; Blake, Parrish and Janne Niinimaa, 2 points; Steve Webb, 6 PIM. Lightning - Modin and St. Louis, 3 goals; Richards, 4 assists; Modin and Richards, 5 points; St. Louis, 8 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Islanders - Power play: 7.1 percent (1 for 14). Penalty killing: 88.9 percent (16 for 18). Lightning - Power play: 11.1 percent (2 for 18). Penalty killing: 92.9 percent (13 for 14).

GOALTENDERS: Islanders - DiPietro (1-3, 1 SO, 2.01 GAA); Garth Snow (no appearances). Lightning - Khabibulin (3-1, 3, 0.50); John Grahame (no appearances).

Associated Press
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