The New York Islanders are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite owning the worst home record in the NHL.
They hope to begin changing that by starting a home-heavy stretch against the slumping Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.
The Islanders (17-16-3) are tied with the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff position in the East, two points back of seventh-place New Jersey and three in front of Carolina and Washington.
New York’s surprising involvement in the postseason race comes even with a 6-11-2 home record for a league-low .368 winning percentage.
Improving upon that is going to be imperative with five of the team’s next seven games at Nassau Coliseum before wrapping up the regular season with a five-game road trip.
The Islanders have won four of five, with Tavares scoring four times during that span. He scored Monday in a 3-1 victory over the Devils to cap a 3-1-0 trip.
“It’s fun right now,” said center Frans Nielsen who had two assists. “Everybody is excited. We just go out there, play our game and play hard, and we’re getting the results right now. We just have to keep it going. We have a big game (Tuesday) at home. It’s exciting. There is a good feeling in here.”
Those feeling may improve further since New York is facing Winnipeg (18-17-2), which has dropped five of seven and three in a row after Monday’s 4-2 road loss to the Rangers.
The Isles are 3-0-1 in their past four meetings with the Jets, winning 5-4 on April 5 in the only home matchup of that stretch. However, they fell by the same score in overtime at Winnipeg on Jan. 27.
Tavares had one goal and two assists in that game, and he’s totaled 14 points in 13 career meetings with the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise.
The Jets are trying to widen their lead atop the Southeast Division, sitting four points clear of Carolina and Washington. Winnipeg, however, has 11 games left in the regular season, three fewer than the Hurricanes and two less than the Capitals.
“We have to stop it,” Ondrej Pavelec said after making 31 saves against the Rangers. “We’ve lost three in a row. We could be in trouble. It’s not going to be easy but we have to find a way.”
Finding some offense would surely help. Winnipeg has scored 11 goals in its last seven games, going 2 for 25 on the power play.
The Jets captain, though, has two goals over his last three visits to Long Island.
Wheeler doesn’t have a goal in six straight meetings with the Islanders, and has just two assists in his last seven contests overall.
New York’s Anders Lee could make his NHL debut after signing an entry-level contract Monday. The center, a sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft, scored 61 goals and 55 assists over the last three seasons with Notre Dame.
“We’re right there. If there’s anything I can do to help that push, I’m all for it,” Lee told the team’s official website.