Islanders-Jets Preview

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An optimist could say the New York Islanders are challenging for the best record in the Eastern Conference, while a pessimist can point toward a disturbing trend of blown big leads in recent weeks. Whatever the viewpoint, the Islanders will face another challenge with their longest road trip in over five years starting Wednesday night against the Winnipeg Jets. After missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, the Islanders are experiencing a resurgence in their final season on Long Island before moving to Brooklyn. They are tied with Pittsburgh atop the Metropolitan Division - the first time they've had a share of first place this late in the season since Feb. 20, 1990. New York's 49 points through 36 games is tied for the fourth most in franchise history, trailing 1978-79 (57), '80-81 (52) and '83-84 (50). While the Islanders (24-11-1) are proving to be a legitimate contender, the team has blown three-goal leads in back-to-back games, and remarkably, four times this month alone. They lost on the first three occasions before recovering to beat Washington 4-3 on Johnny Boychuk's power-play goal in overtime Monday. "We had a three-goal lead the last game and a three-goal lead today, and you can't be blowing those kind of leads," Boychuk said. "But we found a way to get a win when they did have that comeback, and it's another two points." Anders Lee, Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan also scored for the Islanders, who ended an 0-for-13 drought on the power play by converting twice in seven opportunities. "Maybe this is a game we don't win last year," coach Jack Capuano said. "But we kept with it and found a way. Our goaltender played really well to give us a chance to win." That goaltender was Jaroslav Halak, who made 23 saves after missing two games with a lower-body injury. Halak is 16-2-0 with a 1.84 goals-against average in his last 18 starts, while New York's other goalies - Chad Johnson and Kevin Poulin - have lost five of six starts with a 3.91 GAA since mid-November. Only Tampa Bay has more home wins than the Islanders, but it will be a while before they can add to that total with the next seven games away from Nassau Coliseum. The seven-game trek is the Islanders' longest since another seven-game trip Nov. 11-23, 2009. The first stop will be Winnipeg (19-11-7), where New York has gone 4-0-1 since the Jets relocated there for the 2011-12 season. "The Islanders have some firepower up front," Jets center Mark Scheifele told the team's official website. "We're going to stick to our game. We don't want to get into a track meet with them." Scheifele's team suffered a rare regulation loss Monday, falling 3-2 to visiting Minnesota to drop the Jets to 9-2-4 in their last 15 games. Power-play goals by Michael Frolik and Mathieu Perreault staked the home team to a 2-0 lead, but the Wild scored three unanswered in the second period. The Jets remain without their top four defensemen - Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart - and forward Evander Kane is out until February with a lower-body injury. Michael Hutchinson had his three-game win streak snapped Monday. He could give way to Ondrej Pavelec, who is 3-0-3 in his last six starts and was in net for the Jets' 4-3 victory on Long Island on Oct. 28. Captain Andrew Ladd scored twice in that win, giving him five goals and seven points in his last four games against the Islanders.