New York (31-26-4) at Tampa Bay (41-18-5)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Tampa, FL
Temp: 84° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Tue Mar 16, 2004
  • TV: SUN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The New York Islanders have their track shoes on.

Poised for one final push toward the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Islanders will try to increase their tenuous lead for the final playoff spot when they take on the East-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Islanders hold a four-point lead over ninth-place Buffalo with 11 games to play. The Sabres shaved another point off their deficit with Monday’s 6-5 overtime loss to Toronto.

“They’ve (Buffalo) got a good hockey club, so we have to be desperate now,” Islanders center Cliff Ronning said. “If you look at it as a horse race, we’ve come around the stretch and now we’re in a sprint to the end here. So we have to make sure we’re sprinting and not jogging.”

The Islanders ended a six-game winless skid (0-3-1-2) Friday night with a 3-1 victory over Anaheim. New York, which has won just 10 of 36 road games this season, is 1-1-0-1 on its five-game road trip.

“Right now our team’s jelling,” said Ronning, who had a goal and an assist. “We’re slowly coming together like we have to, and now we have to catch a wave and get going.”

Janne Niinimaa also had a goal and an assist for the Islanders.

Rick DiPietro, coming off his fourth straight defeat, made 19 of his career-high 45 saves in the third period—after surrendering four goals on seven shots in the second period of Thursday’s 5-4 loss at San Jose.

“It was real important to put (DiPietro) back there,” first-year coach Steve Stirling said. “It’s another test for a young kid who is making progress. He’s been with me a long time, and he usually comes back like this more often than not after a game like (Thursday).”

DiPietro, 22, was the top overall pick in the 2000 draft—a class that included Minnesota All-Star Marian Gaborik and Atlanta’s star-crossed All-Star, Dany Heatley.

The Islanders may be facing the Lightning at the right time, since Tampa Bay coaches and players were talking about fatigue following a 5-1 home loss to Carolina on Saturday, ending their 18-game point streak.

“Guys looked a little tired tonight,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. “The energy definitely wasn’t there. We’ve had some bad periods in the last five games, but not the whole game. Tonight it was all three of them.”

NHL scoring leader Martin St. Louis had an assist for the Lightning, who are one point behind Detroit in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Tampa Bay, 26-4-2-4 since Jan. 3, was 14-0-2-2 to record the longest points streak in the NHL this season. The Lightning had won seven straight at home and lost for the first time in regulation since Feb. 3.

STANDINGS (through March 14): Islanders - 76 points, 3rd place, 18 PB, Atlantic Division. Lightning - 95 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Islanders - Trent Hunter and Mariusz Czerkawski, 23 goals; Oleg Kvasha, 31 assists; Hunter, 46 points; Eric Cairns, 182 PIM. Lightning - St. Louis, 34 goals, 51 assists and 85 points; Chris Dingman, 136 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 14): Islanders - Power play: 16.7 percent (46 for 276), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.7 percent (262 for 313), 18th (tied). Lightning - Power play: 16.9 percent (51 for 301), 10th. Penalty killing: 84.3 percent (210 for 249), 14th.

GOALTENDERS: Islanders - DiPietro (17-16-5, 3 SO, 2.45 GAA); Garth Snow (14-14-5, 1, 2.73). Lightning - Nikolai Khabibulin (25-15-7, 3, 2.31); John Grahame (16-8-1, 1, 1.99).

SEASON SERIES: Even, 1-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 9; Islanders, 5-2. At Uniondale, N.Y., Hunter and Shawn Bates each had a goal and two assists for New York. Pavel Kubina and Ruslan Fedotenko scored for Tampa Bay.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Islanders - 10-16-7-3 on the road; Lightning - 20-8-4-2 at home.

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