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Panthers conclude homestand against Isles

by John Kreiser
ISLANDERS (27-32-12) at PANTHERS (29-33-9)

TV -- MSG PLUS (HD); FS-Florida (HD)

Last 10 -- New York 4-2-4; Florida 3-5-2

Season series -- It's the last of four meetings, with the Panthers having won the first two and the Islanders cruising to a 5-1 home victory at the Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 21.

Big story -- The game means little in the playoff races, but it's sure to mean a lot to Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro, who's expected to play for the first time since Feb. 11, when he suffered facial fractures in a fight with Pittsburgh goaltender Brent Johnson. He's missed 20 games since then.

Team Scope:

Islanders -- The Isles couldn't hang on to a 2-1 lead late in the third period and wound up losing 3-2 in overtime at Carolina on Friday. But New York got another solid performance by Al Montoya, the goaltender they acquired in a trade with Phoenix after DiPietro was hurt last month. Montoya made 32 saves and is 7-3-4 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

"Al has been doing that since he got here," defenseman Travis Hamonic said of Montoya's performance on Friday. "He's been battling, working really hard, making the big saves and he's really given us the chance to win every night."

Panthers -- The Florida team the Isles will face Saturday bears little resemblance to the one that beat them 4-3 in mid-November. Injuries and trades have resulted in numerous roster changes and minor-league callups. Still, the Panthers are coming off one of their best efforts of the season, a 4-0 win against Toronto on Thursday that left coach Peter DeBoer encouraged going into the finale of a seven-game homestand.

"We've got a lot of kids up here that are competing real hard and trying to do the right thing," he said.

Who's hot -- Isles center John Tavares, who had a hat trick in his last visit to Sunrise, has 5 points in his last four games. His 26 goals and 60 points are more than he had in either category as a rookie last season. … Florida defenseman Keaton Ellerby has 4 points and is plus-4 in the Panthers' last five games.

Injury report -- DiPietro's return still leaves the Isles with multiple long-term injuries, though center Doug Weight (back) and defenseman Mark Streit (shoulder) are skating. … Florida's injury list includes young wingers Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias (ankle), center Scott Timmins (concussion), defenseman Alexander Sulzer (upper body) and forward Rostislav Olesz (leg).

Stat pack -- The Islanders are 0-7-1 at BankAtlantic Center since a 4-1 victory on Nov. 18, 2006. … DiPietro has lost his last six decisions to the Panthers.

Puck drop -- The hottest Islander since the All-Star break has been forward Michael Grabner, who scored again on Friday and leads all rookies with 29 goals. The Isles got Grabner as a waiver claim from Florida after the Austrian youngster had an admittedly poor training camp, and he's become a terror to goaltenders, often getting multiple breakaways in a game. He's still looking for his first point against Florida -- but he's a big reason the Islanders have gone from next-to-last in League scoring to the middle of the pack.

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