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Panthers get Booth back for game against Islanders

by Brian Hunter
ISLANDERS (23-24-8) at PANTHERS (23-22-9)

Last 10: New York 5-5-0; Florida 6-2-2

Season Series: Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. Each team has won once on home ice via the shootout -- Florida on Nov. 14 by a 5-4 score, New York on Jan. 21 by a 2-1 score -- and the Panthers routed the Islanders 7-1 on Dec. 14 as Nathan Horton recorded the hat trick.

Big Story: With both teams on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff race, Florida figures to get a big lift Sunday with the return of forward David Booth. When last seen, Booth was the recipient of a booming check by Philadelphia captain Mike Richards in an Oct. 24 game. He left the ice on a stretcher and hasn't played since due to the effects of a concussion.

"I'm excited it's tomorrow," Booth said. "I've been waiting a long time for this and I'm glad I get some games in before the break. Hopefully that will get me ready for the last push of the season there in March.

"It's going to be fun. I can't put too much pressure on it. I just have to go out there, do what I've done before, and that's just have fun and play as hard as I can play and work as hard as I can. If I stay to my basics and not try to do too much, I think I'll be fine."

Team Scope:

Islanders: After winning seven of nine to start 2010 and surging into the East's top eight, New York has fallen on hard times. The Islanders are currently on a four-game losing streak that has dropped them into 13th, though a few wins could easily vault them from the bottom of the logjam for the final playoff spots closer to the top. Despite Josh Bailey's second-period goal and Dwayne Roloson's 30 saves, they fell 2-1 to the Flyers on Saturday, their 14th consecutive loss against Philadelphia.

"It was a good effort," coach Scott Gordon said. "We had a slow start in the first period. They had power plays but I thought we were the better team in the second and third periods."

Southeast Division-leading Washington ran its winning streak to nine in a row with a 4-1 win over Florida on Friday. Stephen Weiss scored the only goal for the Panthers, who lost Horton a few games back to a broken left tibia that will sideline him 4-6 weeks. Booth's return couldn't come at a better time, though coach Peter DeBoer could take a cautious approach with his ice time in his first game back.

"(In) our conversations that I have had with David, it's going to depend on his feel," DeBoer said. "If he gives me the green light, he's a great player, a world class player obviously.

"But for me it's going to be a situation where I'm going to have to make sure that I keep an eye on it and don't overextend him."

Who's Hot: Kyle Okposo has two goals and two assists in the last four games for New York. … Tomas Vokoun gave up four goals Friday, but the Florida goalie allowed two or less in each of his previous seven starts.

Injury Report:
Islanders forward Tim Jackman (broken orbital bone) and defensemen Radek Martinek (torn ACL), Brendan Witt (calf) and Jack Hillen (jaw) are on injured reserve. … Horton is the only injury listed for the Panthers.

Stat Pack: Matt Moulson leads New York with 20 goals, while Okposo is first on the team with 37 points. … Steven Reinprecht leads Florida with a plus-9 rating. The veteran forward is plus-33 in 606 games over a career that has also seen stints with Los Angeles, Colorado, Calgary and Phoenix.
Puck Drop:
The Panthers sit one point ahead of the Islanders in the standings, setting up what should be a hotly-contested game.

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