ISLANDERS (23-24-8) at PANTHERS (23-22-9)
New York 5-5-0; Florida 6-2-2
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.
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."
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.
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.
The Panthers sit one point ahead of the Islanders in the standings, setting up what should be a hotly-contested game.