While the New York Islanders don't need a statement victory to reach the playoffs for the first time in six years, it would add to their growing confidence.
Becoming one of the few teams to win in Boston this season would surely serve that purpose.
Enjoying one of their best runs in recent memory, the Islanders look to continue their postseason push Thursday night against the Bruins, who could be without leading scorer Brad Marchand.
Although they managed to stay close to the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders (20-16-4) didn't look much like a team ready to make a run after losing three straight late last month.
Since that skid, however, the Islanders have gone 7-1-1, including four consecutive home wins. They have 15 points during a nine-game stretch for the first time since 2009-10.
The surge has moved New York into a sixth-place tie with Ottawa and the Rangers in the Eastern Conference, although the Senators have one game in hand on both teams. The Islanders haven't reached the playoffs since 2006-07, finishing last in the Atlantic Division every season since.
"Everyone is feeding off the energy, and we're excited," said John Tavares, who scored his team-leading 24th goal in Tuesday's 4-1 win over Philadelphia. "We're raising our game and getting better."
With the exception of a win over Washington, which recently moved into first place in the Southeast Division, every victory during the Islanders' nine-game run has come against teams below them in the standings.
Forward Matt Moulson knows this game versus Northeast Division-leading Boston (26-9-4) will give his team a better idea where it stands against the league's best.
"We know they're a good team," he said. "If you want to make the playoffs and go deep in the postseason, you've got to beat good teams. We know that. This will be a good challenge for us."
Evgeni Nabokov figures to be in net for the Islanders looking to help continue his team's excellent defensive play. New York has allowed two goals or fewer in six straight games for the first time since an eight-game stretch Jan. 17-31, 2004.
Nabokov is 6-1-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average in his past eight starts.
Wins against the Bruins have been hard to come by for the Islanders, who have lost three straight and nine of 11 in the series, including both meetings this season.
Although the Islanders are 11-5-2 on the road, continuing that success in Boston will be difficult. The Bruins are 14-2-2 at home, going 8-0-1 there since a 4-3 loss to Montreal on March 3.
Boston moved back atop the Northeast on Wednesday with its fifth win in six games, 5-4 over New Jersey. Gregory Campbell scored twice in a three-goal first period for the Bruins, who have 11 goals in the last two games after totaling eight in the previous five.
The win, however, could prove costly as Marchand did not return after he was elbowed in the head by Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov in the second period. Marchand's absence would leave Boston without two of its top three scorers with Patrice Bergeron sidelined by a concussion.
"After the second period our trainer said he (Marchand) wasn't going to be back," coach Claude Julien told the league's official website. "Whether that's being cautious or not, I don't know. I'll let our doctors give me the verdict before I say anything."
Tuukka Rask is Boston's likely starter after Anton Khudobin beat the Devils. Rask is 6-1-0 with a 2.25 GAA in eight career starts against New York.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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