Series (Game 3 of 4)

Tampa Bay leads 3-1

Game 1: Saturday, December 5th
Game 2: Monday, December 21st
Game 3: Thursday, February 4th
Game 4: Saturday, February 13th

Islanders 2

(23-26-8, 54 pts)

Lightning 5

(24-21-11, 59 pts)

7:30 PM ET, February 4, 2010

Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

1 2 3 T
NYI 1 1 02
TB 1 2 25

S. Stamkos (Lightning - C): Goals: 2, Assists: 1

A. Niittymaki (Lightning - G): Saves: 34, Save Pct.: .944

M. St. Louis (Lightning - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

Islanders-Lightning Preview


With less than 10 weeks remaining before the end of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to make a strong push for their first playoff appearance in three years.

Returning home to face the New York Islanders might help them take another step in that direction.

The Lightning look to continue their strong play at St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday night when they open a four-game homestand against an Islanders team seeking to avoid matching its longest losing streak of the season.

Tampa Bay (23-21-11) has one of the worst road records in the NHL at 9-15-5, but strong play at home has the Lightning thinking postseason. They're currently tied with Florida and the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in an Eastern Conference so tight that the 13th-place Islanders (23-25-8) lurk three points behind.

The players know they have little room for error.

"We're in a playoff mode right now," Martin St. Louis said after scoring for the fourth straight game in Tuesday's 2-1 victory at Atlanta -- another team among the bunch seeking the last playoff spots. "It was good to get the win in regulation. It was big because they didn't get a point."

The Lightning, who are 7-1-2 on home ice since dropping three in a row there Dec. 7-23, are 7-0-2 in the Islanders' last nine visits, with shutout wins in the last two. Tampa Bay hasn't lost at home to New York in regulation since a 3-1 defeat March 16, 2004.

Mike Smith made 30 saves Dec. 5 at home to lead the Lightning over the Islanders 4-0. Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and Jeff Halpern and Victor Hedman scored for Tampa Bay while Vincent Lecavalier, Andrej Meszaros and St. Louis each added two assists.

St. Louis, who leads the Lightning with 43 assists and 60 points, has five goals and three assists in his last eight games.

Steven Stamkos, who had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 victory at New York on Dec. 21, looks to extend his point streak to a career high-tying eight games -- a feat he previously accomplished Oct. 12-Nov. 2. The second-year center has four goals and six assists during his current run.

The Islanders may be envious of that kind of scoring punch. The league's second-lowest scoring team this season, New York is averaging 1.2 goals during its five-game losing streak. All the defeats during the current streak have come in regulation for the Islanders, who took three games to overtime during their season-worst six-game skid that opened 2009-10.

New York has also dropped four straight on the road and is trying to avoid a winless four-game trip.

"The key for us is to stay upbeat, stay positive," Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro said following Sunday's 2-0 loss at Florida. "Take the things that we did well from this game and move on. There's no time to pout. It's about getting back on track and winning as many games as you can going into the stretch."

Winning may be a tall order for the Islanders regardless of who starts in net for Tampa Bay. Mike Smith has earned both Lightning wins over New York in the season series, while Antero Niittymaki made 26 saves in Tuesday's win and is 5-1-1 with a 1.75 goals-against average in his last seven starts.

The options don't look as appealing for Islanders coach Scott Gordon. DiPietro lost his third straight start Sunday, while Dwayne Roloson is 0-2-0 with a 4.04 GAA in his last two starts at Tampa Bay.

Malone has no points in his last four games, but facing the Islanders could help him get back on track. He scored two third-period power-play goals and matched a career high with four points in the Dec. 21 victory in New York.

Lecavalier has six goals and three assists in his last six games versus the Islanders.