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GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (42-20-8-5) at New York Islanders (33-27-10-4).

TIME: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST.

Jason Blake is doing his best to ensure the New York Islanders a spot in the postseason.

Blake and the Islanders get a preview of what may be waiting for them in the playoffs as they host the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

Blake recorded his second career hat trick Friday, leading New York to a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild - their third victory in four games (3-1-0).

"I'm from there, and it's great that my family and friends got to see the game on TV tonight," said Blake, who grew up in Minnesota.

The Islanders are four points ahead of ninth-place Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. New York has eight games left, and the Sabres, who beat Florida 2-1 on Saturday, have seven to go.

If the season ended now, the Islanders would face the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.

Blake's three-goal performance, which included a short-handed tally, extended his career-best point streak to seven games - the longest active streak in the league and the longest by an Islander this season.

Blake also became the first Atlantic Division player to record a hat trick this season.

Goalie Rick DiPietro stopped sixteen shots in his career-high eighth straight start for the Islanders, whose 80 points through 74 games match their second-best mark in 18 seasons.

The Lightning are coming off Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Boston Bruins - their third loss in four games (1-3-0). Fredrik Modin had two goals for Tampa Bay, which blew a 3-0 lead.

"If we're going to win the playoffs, that game should (have been) over," left wing Dave Andreychuk said.

The Lightning have already clinched the Southeast Division, and their 97 points are a franchise record.

The Islanders have gone 7-2-0-0 in their last nine home games against the Lightning, and are 8-3 overall against Tampa Bay over the last three seasons.

STANDINGS: Lightning - 97 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Islanders - 80 points, 3rd place, 16 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Martin St. Louis, 35 goals, 51 assists and 86 points; Chris Dingman, 136 PIM. Islanders - Trent Hunter, 24 goals; Oleg Kvasha, 31 assists; Hunter and Blake, 47 points; Eric Cairns, 182 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 19): Lightning - Power play: 16.5 percent (51 for 309), 14th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (215 for 254), 9th. Islanders - Power play: 16.2 percent (47 for 290), 18th. Penalty killing: 84 percent (273 for 325), 16th.

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Nikolai Khabibulin (26-17-7, 3 SO, 2.33 GAA); John Grahame (16-8-1, 1, 1.99). Islanders - DiPietro (19-16-5, 3, 2.44); Garth Snow (14-15-5, 1, 2.77).

SEASON SERIES: Islanders, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Tuesday; Islanders, 3-1. At Tampa Bay, Mattias Weinhandl, Justin Papineau and Blake scored in the third period for the Islanders, who got two assists from Cliff Ronning.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 21-11-4-3 on the road; Islanders - 22-10-3-1 at home.

Associated Press
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