Feb 18, 2012; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) reacts after scoring a goal during the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Islanders won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes – Game Preview: 2013 NHL Playoff Berth In Sight

Raleigh, NC — the New York Islanders can almost taste the 2013 NHL Playoffs at this point. With 53 points and sole possession of sixth place in the Eastern Conference, the Isles travel to PNC Arena in Raleigh tonight to take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:00PM ET for a chance to clinch their first postseason berth since 2006-07.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. New York will need some help from the Winnipeg Jets, with whom no love was lost on Saturday during a thrilling game that saw its fair share of chippiness from both sides.

(For those who weren’t aware, the Isles came away with a hard-fought 5-4 shootout victory and a big extra point on the road.)

The Jets are on the road tonight against the division-leading Washington Capitals, in the second of back-to-back games for Winnipeg.

If the Islanders are to cement a place in this season’s playoff picture, they’ll need the Jets to lose. It’s as simple as that. If the Jets lose in regulation, the Isles can clinch with a single point (e.g. overtime or shootout loss). If the Jets can manage a point against the Capitals, the Isles will need a regulation win to earn a guaranteed spot.

Short story long (as is so often the case), there’s really no sense in watching the scoreboard.

If the Islanders can take care of business against the Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers the rest of the way – the dregs of the conference – they’ll reward their fan base’s suffering by making the postseason.

Besides, relying on other teams to do our dirty work might not be the best plan from a karmic perspective.

New York (24-16-5) is on a tear lately – the team still hasn’t lost a game in regulation during the month of April and they’ve put up an 11-1-2 record in their last 14 games overall. Believe me: I’m about as tired of writing numbers like that as the fans are of hearing them.

Which is to say: NOT TIRED OF IT AT ALL.

The Isles are playing like a team possessed, winning games in blowouts and shootouts alike. They’re currently riding the franchise’s longest point streak (10 games) since the team opened the 2001-02 season with a record of 9-0-1-1.

By contrast, Carolina (18-24-3, 39 points) has struggled this year, and may provide the Isles the perfect opportunity to pad their recent statistical run. The Hurricanes are third in the Southeast Division after enduring a 3-15-2 stretch since Mar. 14. It should be noted, however, that they won both contests against the Isles this season: 6-4 on Feb. 11 and 4-2 on Feb. 24, both at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

It’s likely that the Islanders are well aware that the ‘Canes are the only team in the Eastern Conference they haven’t yet beaten.

Isles superstar John Tavares is coming off of two solid games in Toronto and Winnipeg, in which he’s tallied three points (2 G, 1 A), and had the shootout-winning goal against the Jets. And there’s no doubt that he’s looking forward to tonight’s matchup with Carolina.

Tavares is on a seven-game point streak against the Hurricanes, dating back to last year. During that streak he’s recorded 17 points (9 G, 8 A) and has been the best player on the ice for extended stretches.

If you asked them, I’d bet Hurricanes fans would say that they’re not happy to see him coming to town tonight. There was a time when Tavares would only exhibit such flashes of brilliance against teams at the bottom of the standings (read: Carolina), but lately he’s been playing Hart Trophy-caliber hockey against all opponents.

Bolstering the back of the Isles formation has been veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov, whose recent numbers speak for themselves: a 10-1-2 record and a 1.74 GAA in his last 13 starts. He also leads the NHL in wins with 23, even though four other goalies have appeared in more games than he has.

But perhaps the most important factor in the Isles success lately has been the performance of its second line: Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo.

Bailey has found his scoring touch this season, netting three goals in his last five games. Nielsen has played every bit like the defensive centerman he is, winning key faceoffs and scoring the occasional goal.

And after another sluggish start to the season, Okposo has come on strong of late. He’s raised his level of play to match the intensity of the team, using his size and stickhandling to grind along the boards and find his line mates in open ice.

With the combination of top-line chemistry, secondary scoring and solid goaltending, the Islanders are poised to make the leap from “Eastern Conference also-ran” to “full-fledged playoff team.”

The only question that remains is: will tonight be the night it happens?

 

 

Projected lineup:

 

26 Moulson – 91 Tavares – 24 Boyes

12 Bailey – 51 Nielsen – 21 Okposo

40 Grabner – 10 Aucoin – 13 McDonald

6 Joensuu – 53 Cizikas – 17 Martin

 

47 MacDonald – 3 Hamonic

14 Hickey – 11 Visnovsky

2 Streit – 37 Strait

 

20 Evgeni Nabokov

60 Kevin Poulin

 

 

Be on the lookout immediately following the game tonight for the newest feature here at EYES: Dump & Chase. It’ll prepare you for the postgame report by giving you some quick-hitting info before the recap is finalized. After that, keep it right here at EyesOnIsles.com for the full postgame report.

Be sure to connect with us here at EYES since we’re always happy to talk about the Isles or the NHL in general. And keep a browser tab open to EyesOnIsles.com on your phone, tablet or computer for daily Islanders news, notes, pre-game reports, post-game reports, columns and occasional ramblings from the EYES staff. As always, we appreciate all the reader support.

‘Like’ our Facebook page and follow our Twitter feed for up-to-the-minute postings on the site. Also, feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected]. One more thing: follow us each individually on Twitter; we’re always eager to hear your thoughts.

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Tags: John Tavares Josh Bailey Kyle Okposo New York Islanders NHL NHL Eastern Conference Playoffs

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