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Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders

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GAME: Washington Capitals (22-42-9-2) at New York Islanders (34-27-10-4).

TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST.

If ever one team owed another some serious payback, it's in the case of the New York Islanders playing the Washington Capitals.

The Islanders will look to add to their lead in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and earn a rare win in their series with the Capitals when the teams meet on Long Island.

The Islanders have won just one of their last 14 meetings (1-12-1) with the Capitals at Nassau Coliseum. The lone victory in that stretch clinched the Islanders' first playoff appearance in eight years on April 6, 2002.

Washington's overall dominance in the series has been equally perplexing as the Capitals have lost just three of the last 30 meetings (24-2-3-1).

However, the teams are at opposite ends of the NHL spectrum right now. The Islanders have won four of five and own a six-point lead over Buffalo in the race for the final playoff spot in the East. The Sabres host Montreal on Wednesday.

The Capitals have long-since been in rebuilding mode, having traded away nearly all of their high-priced players, including Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra and Robert Lang. Washington is just four points ahead of league-worst Pittsburgh.

The Islanders are coming off a 3-0 win over visiting Tampa Bay on Sunday, their second victory over the Southeast Division-champion Lightning in a week.

"We want to prove to every team that when we play hard and play our game, we can beat anybody," said defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who had a goal and an assist.

Aucoin, who had two goals, two assists and a plus-7 rating in four games last week, was named NHL Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.

Rick DiPietro was often spectacular in making 29 saves for his fourth shutout of the season.

"He stops everything," Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier said.

At 23-10-3-1, the Islanders have their best home record in 19 seasons.

Since dropping eight of nine, the Capitals have a win and Saturday's 2-2 with visiting Atlanta. Jeff Halpern and Alexander Semin scored for the Capitals, and Olaf Kolzig made 43 saves.

"(Kolzig) is definitely one of the best No. 1 goalies in the league and tonight he proved it," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "He stopped many good shots - stood tall on our scoring chances and gave his team a chance to win like any great goalie would do."

The Capitals have used 47 players in 75 games, a franchise high for a season.

STANDINGS: Capitals - 55 points, 5th place, 42 PB, Southeast Division. Islanders - 82 points, 3rd place, 14 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Capitals - Halpern, 15 goals, 22 assists and 37 points; Brendan Witt, 117 PIM. Islanders - Trent Hunter, 24 goals; Oleg Kvasha, 31 assists; Hunter and Jason Blake, 47 points; Eric Cairns, 182 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 21): Capitals - Power play: 20.0 percent (63 for 315), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (295 for 365), 27th. Islanders - Power play: 16.0 percent (47 for 293), 18th. Penalty killing: 84.3 percent (279 for 331), 14th (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Capitals - Kolzig (19-33-8, 2 SO, 2.87 GAA); Sebastien Charpentier (0-6-0, 3.41). Islanders - DiPietro (20-16-5, 4, 2.38); Garth Snow (14-15-5, 1, 2.77).

SEASON SERIES: Capitals, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 21; Islanders, 5-4. At Washington, Alexei Yashin snapped a tie early in the third period as the Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit for their first victory in Washington since 1997.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Capitals - 10-22-3-1 on the road; Islanders - 23-10-3-1 at home.


Associated Press
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