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With their sixth straight win, Islanders are back in the thick of the playoff chase @NHLdotcom

Chris Simon returned to Long Island after a long absence. Hope, however, had returned some time ago to the New York Islanders.

Rick DiPietro stopped 32 shots to help the Islanders win their sixth straight with a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

"The big thing is we wanted to get back to playing smart hockey and the kind of hockey we are successful with," DiPietro said. "Just when everyone had us written off and it looks like we aren't going to be able to compete anymore, we find a way to win."

DiPietro posted his third shutout of the season, first in 40 games, and 14th of his career. He has allowed 12 goals in the winning streak that has brought New York back into the Eastern Conference's playoff race.

Ever since the Islanders broke a seven-game skid on Feb. 12 with a win against Philadelphia, they have been unstoppable. New York is enjoying its best stretch since another six-game winning streak from Dec. 21-31, 2003, and has climbed back into the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

The Islanders are in ninth place, but trail the three teams in front of them by just one point.

In Thursday's other NHL games, it was: Buffalo 5, Toronto 1; San Jose 3, Philadelphia 1; Pittsburgh 5, Montreal 4; Los Angeles 5, St. Louis 1; Carolina 5, Atlanta 3; Columbus 3, Ottawa 2, in a shootout; Boston 5, Florida 4, in a shootout; and Vancouver 3, Nashville 2 in a shootout.

Simon returned from a record 30-game suspension levied by the NHL against him in December for his skate stomp on the back of the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu.

Simon took his first shift 2 1/2 minutes into the opening period, alongside rookies Blake Comeau and Frans Nielsen on the Islanders' fourth line, and heard a few cheers and louder boos when he hit the ice and touched the puck.

"The most important thing is that we won," he said. "My teammates have been so supportive and have been great to me. I can't control what other people think and how they react. I respect that they have their opinion, and I'm just going to keep working hard in gaining them back."

Miroslav Satan broke the scoreless tie 5:37 into the third period. It was all DiPietro needed to end the Lightning's 10-game road run of earning at least one point (7-0-3). He blanked Tampa Bay for the second time this season despite New York missing key injured defensemen Brendan Witt, Andy Sutton, Bruno Gervais and Chris Campoli.

Ales Kotalik scored two goals to help visiting Buffalo win for the 10th time in 14 games.

Brian Campbell, Jaroslav Spacek and Derek Roy also scored for the Sabres, who are on a 10-2-2 run and moved into a tie with the New York Rangers for sixth place in the East.

Pavel Kubina scored for the Leafs, who are eight points out of a playoff spot and seem unlikely to qualify.

Douglas Murray and Milan Michalek scored goals 42 seconds apart early in the third period to help San Jose send host Philadelphia to its ninth straight loss.

Jonathan Cheechoo scored his 17th goal for the Sharks, who snapped a five-game losing streak. Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves.

Mike Knuble scored his 22nd goal for the slumping Flyers.

Evgeni Malkin scored his 35th goal midway through the third period and got his second assist of the game on Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal moments later to lift visiting Pittsburgh.

Malkin, who assisted on Ryan Whitney's goal 6:46 in to become the first player to reach 80 points this season, scored on a breakaway 10:22 into the third to tie it after Pittsburgh - which led 2-0 and 3-1 - blew a two-goal margin to fall behind 4-3.

Gonchar restored the Penguins' lead with his 10th goal at 10:58, past Cristobal Huet for Pittsburgh's second power-play goal of the game.

At Los Angeles, Alexander Frolov scored three goals and Patrick O'Sullivan had a goal and four assists.

Anze Kopitar broke open a scoreless tie in the second period with a power play goal, triggering a four-goal barrage that chased former Kings goaltender Manny Legace.

Dan Cloutier made 31 saves in his third start of the season for the Kings.

Scott Walker had a goal and two assists for host Carolina.

Ray Whitney, Ryan Bayda and Sergei Samsonov scored second period goals, and Keith Aucoin also scored for the Hurricanes. Cam Ward made 25 saves.

The Hurricanes extended their division lead to four points over the second-place Washington Capitals and five over the third-place Thrashers.

Eric Perrin, Mark Recchi and Todd White scored for Atlanta.

Rick Nash scored in regulation and in a shootout for visiting Columbus.

Pascal Leclaire stopped Daniel Alfredsson and Antoine Vermette in the shootout after Columbus came back from a goal down in the third period.

Nash and Nikolai Zherdev were successful against Ray Emery.

Marco Sturm scored the only goal of the shootout after Boston rallied from a two-goal, third-period deficit.

Bruins goalie Alex Auld replaced starter Tim Thomas after the second period and stopped Steve Montador, Nathan Horton and Olli Jokinen in the shootout. Sturm, Dennis Wideman, Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel scored in regulation for the Bruins, who are 5-0-1 in their last six road games.

Jay Bouwmeester, Montador, Rostislav Olesz and Kamil Kreps scored for the Panthers, who have lost three in a row and five of six.

Mason Raymond scored two goals, including one in a shootout, and assisted on another for visiting Vancouver.

It was the second overtime game in a row for the Canucks. It was the third overtime game in the last four for the Predators and their fourth game in a row to be decided by one goal.

Jason Arnott and Marek Zidlicky scored in regulation for the Predators.

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