The Panthers look to continue their playoff push with their season-high fifth straight victory as they host the slumping Islanders on Wednesday.
Florida (32-31-8) has matched its longest win streak of the season with four consecutive victories. The Panthers have won three one-goal games in that stretch, including a 3-2 overtime victory over Atlanta on Saturday that buoyed their hopes of making their first playoff appearance since 2000.
The Panthers can credit Nathan Horton’s clutch play for helping keep their streak alive. The fourth-year forward notched his second overtime goal in three games in Saturday’s victory, and has three goals and two assists during his five-game points streak.
“It’s a huge win for us,” said Horton, who also gave Florida a 1-0 overtime victory against Boston on Tuesday. “We need to keep this thing rolling, keep getting points.”
The Panthers haven’t won more than four consecutive games since reeling off seven in a row March 17-29, 2006. Their current streak has pulled them into a three-way tie alongside Washington and Toronto for 10th place in the East— seven points behind the eighth and final playoff spot. Florida is also seven points behind Southeast Division-leading Carolina.
“We lose, we know we could be out and not have any chance,” Horton said. “So we just need to keep winning. That’s all we can control is winning games.”
New York (32-32-7) is just one point behind Florida, but the Islanders’ playoff hopes are fading thanks to a three-game losing streak that has dropped New York to 2-7-0 in its last nine.
The Islanders’ latest defeat was particularly disheartening. They gave up a season high-tying goal total in their 8-4 loss to Eastern Conference-worst Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
“When it rains, it pours,” said Islanders forward Bill Guerin, who scored in the first period for just his third goal in his last 24 games. “We’re down a bunch of guys right now. Our young guys have stepped in and played well, but we need more depth. It’s nobody’s fault. It just happened.”
The Islanders’ struggles may continue with five players on injured reserve and several others playing hurt.
“We’re real fragile right now,” coach Ted Nolan said. “We’ve got so many guys out. So many new guys. Everybody is trying the best they can. It seems like we’re fighting an uphill battle.”
New York would certainly be in better position if goaltender Rick DiPietro can snap out of his funk. After posting a 1.98 goals-against average in six straight wins Feb. 12-21, DiPietro has a 4.52 GAA while going 1-5-0 in his last six games.
DiPietro is 0-1-1 with a 2.99 GAA in two games against the Panthers this season, and 6-4-1 with a 2.88 GAA in 12 career games.
If the Islanders decide to sit DiPietro because of Tuesday’s performance, they’ll start Wade Dubielewicz, who allowed only one goal in his first career start against Florida—a 1-0 loss on March 2.
Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun is 6-2-0 with a 1.85 GAA and two shutouts in eight career games against the Islanders. He has won five straight against them, including a 3-0 win the last time he faced them Dec. 7.
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