It's been quite some time since the New York Islanders were battling for playoff position while facing non-contenders down the stretch, rather than it being the other way around.
Now they're hoping to reverse their fortunes against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Islanders look to win their fourth straight while salvaging the final meeting of the season with host Carolina, which is simply hoping to close its season on a positive note.
New York has gone 11-1-2 over its last 14 games to bolster its postseason chances. It is two points behind Toronto for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference while holding a one-point edge on the eighth-place Rangers.
The Islanders (24-16-5) won their third straight when John Tavares scored the final shootout goal for a 5-4 road victory over Winnipeg on Saturday.
``It's April. There's a lot on the line, and in the last week of the season especially, every win is big,' Tavares said. ``I think we knew it would have a playoff atmosphere. You could sense it in the locker room before the game and during the game.'
New York hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2006-07 and hasn't won a playoff series 1992-93. Rather than trying to be spoilers down the stretch like in recent seasons, it has to contend with others playing that role this year.
The Islanders, who beat Toronto 5-3 on Thursday to open a season-ending five-game trip, follows this contest with matchups against Philadelphia on Thursday and Buffalo on Friday - two other teams that won't be playing in the postseason.
Carolina (18-24-3) was eliminated largely because it dropped 17 of 19 before earning a 3-2 road win over Tampa Bay on Sunday. Jiri Tlusty scored twice, Alexander Semin had a goal and two assists and Eric Staal added two assists, while Dan Ellis made 35 saves.
"We are not pushing for playoff spots but we are pushing to honor our fans, honor the crest on our jersey,' Ellis said.
Coach Kirk Muller hasn't specified if Ellis or Justin Peters will get the start Tuesday for the Hurricanes, who haven't won back-to-back games since beating New Jersey and Washington on March 9 and 12.
"He stepped up and had a good, strong game,' Muller said of Ellis, who was 0-6-1 with a 3.74 goals-against average over his previous eight appearances. ``That's what you need from him."
A couple bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for the Hurricanes were a pair of victories over the Islanders, who had won the previous four matchups. Tlusty, who has a team-best and career-high 21 goals, scored twice and added two assists in 6-4 win Feb. 11, then Jordan Staal had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 victory Feb. 24.
Despite the defeats, Tavares and Matt Moulson continued their torrid stretches against Carolina.
Tavares has nine goals and eight assists during a seven-game point streak versus the Hurricanes, and he's scored in each of his last five against them. Moulson has four goals and five assists during a four-game point streak in the series.
Evgeni Nabokov, 10-1-2 with a 1.74 GAA over his last 13 starts, likely will be in net Tuesday. He's 8-1-1 with a 2.04 GAA in 11 career starts against the Hurricanes.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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