The New York Islanders will return home Tuesday night in a sturdier playoff position than the last time they played at UBS Arena on March 11 -- and focused on ensuring the home schedule continues beyond the end of the regular season.
The Islanders will look to solidify their standing in the Eastern Conference wild-card race Tuesday night, when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in Elmont, N.Y., in the final meeting of the regular season between the clubs.
Both teams have been off since earning road wins Saturday, when the Islanders closed out a productive trip by beating the San Jose Sharks 4-1 and the Maple Leafs outlasted the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in a marathon shootout.
The Islanders (36-27-8, 80 points) recovered from last Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings to go 2-1-0 on a West Coast trip. New York beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 before scoring the final four goals in the win over the Sharks.
"You never want to drop the first one like we did," Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau told Newsday after scoring New York's first goal Saturday. "So I think we showed a lot of character. Two games that we needed and we got the job done."
The winning trip ensured the Islanders would take the ice Tuesday with no worse than a share of a wild-card spot. New York entered Monday atop the wild-card race, two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and three points ahead of the Florida Panthers prior to the Penguins' game against the Senators and the Panthers' clash with the Detroit Red Wings.
Both teams will have one game in hand on the Islanders after Monday.
"I'm not going to go out of my way to try and break down the mathematic equation that is probabilities and what's left and that kind of stuff," forward Kyle Palmieri told Newsday Saturday, when he scored the game-winning goal 2:18 into the second period. "You pay attention to it and you're aware of it, but at the end of the day, we want to be able to control our own destiny, and that's what we're looking to do."
There are no worries about missing the playoffs for the Maple Leafs (42-18-9, 93 points), who entered Monday 16 points clear of the ninth-place Panthers in the Eastern Conference and are likely headed for a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who earned a seven-game win in the first round of the playoffs last season. Toronto leads the Lightning by three points in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage in the first round.
But winning both ends of a back-to-back, home-and-away set was key to establishing some momentum for the Maple Leafs, whose 55-year Stanley Cup drought is the longest in the NHL. Toronto beat the visiting Carolina Hurricanes -- who lead the Metropolitan Division -- 5-2 on Friday night before withstanding a late comeback by the Senators.
Brady Tkachuk scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the third -- including the game-tying goal with 11 seconds left -- to force overtime. Following a scoreless five minutes, the teams battled through a nine-round shootout before Alexander Kerfoot finally recorded the game-winning goal.
"Back-to-back, a desperate team on the other side," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "On the road, we earned the four points out of four (which) is good for our team."
--Field Level Media