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HURRICANES (37-30-10) at ISLANDERS (30-36-12)
TV: FS-CR (HD), MSG PLUS (HD)
Last 10: Carolina 6-4-0; New York 4-4-2
Season series: The Hurricanes will be looking to extend their five-game winning streak over the Islanders dating back to the last Isles win on Nov. 13, 2009, 4-3 in overtime. They've outscored the Isles 21-8 over that stretch.
Big story: The Canes are three points behind both the Sabres and Rangers for the seventh and eighth playoff spots with five games to go, and have won five of six to get there. A win Saturday night might put them in position to leapfrog the Sabres, who face the Capitals on Saturday and have a showdown against these same Hurricanes on Sunday. The reeling Rangers draw the Flyers on Sunday, so the playoff picture could look very different by Monday.
Hurricanes: The six goals scored against the Canadiens on Wednesday are impressive in any case, but a look at the box score sends an even more encouraging message. None of the six goals came from top-line players Eric Staal or Erik Cole. Instead, super-rookie Jeff Skinner and defenseman Jamie McBain did much of the heavy lifting, each scoring twice in a dominant 6-2 win. Cory Stillman and Joni Pitkanen contributed as well, making it the first game in over a month in which Carolina defenders contributed more than one goal.
On the heels of a gutty turnaround win in Washington, the Canes were riding a rising wave of confidence, especially considering they hadn't beaten the Caps and Canadiens all season and then did it on successive nights at the most crucial time. It was their first back-to-back sweep since Dec. 28-29 over the Maple Leafs and Senators.
"To be able to respond and play with the up-tempo we did tonight really speaks volumes about the character in the room," goalie Cam Ward told the Raleigh News and Observer. "We clearly know what's at stake here. Things are looking really good."
Islanders: It was an absolutely terrific night for the Islanders, who dominated the Rangers with a 6-2 win Thursday night, ending a three-game losing streak and throwing a wrench in the Blueshirts' playoff quest. But in this season of inspiring steps forward and debilitating steps back, even a game like this had a downside.
That came when Marian Gaborik landed a hit in the numbers on Frans Nielsen, knocking him out with a head injury and angering his teammates.
"Any time Frans Nielsen goes down and leaves the game with a head injury, it doesn't sit well with us," Zenon Konopka told Newsday.
Who's hot: Skinner has 5 goals and 3 assists in his last six games. Michael Grabner sat out the last two games awaiting the birth of his first child, which allowed Logan Couture to tie him for the NHL lead in goals by a rookie with 31. Skinner is not far behind with 29. … PA Parenteau had a goal and an assist Thursday to go with a plus-4 rating on the ice and his first 50-point season. Matt Moulson's goal and assist ended a six-game scoreless drought.
Injury report: Of the Islanders not shut down for the season, Milan Jurcina (hip) and Bruno Gervais (foot) remain day-to-day. Ty Wishart (shoulder) and Jack Hillen (upper body) left Thursday's game in the third period, but no official word has been released on their availability for Saturday. … On the Canes' side, Staal needed stitches on Tuesday after getting hit by a stick, but played nearly 20 aggressive minutes against Montreal the following night.
Stat pack: Going into Thursday, the Rangers had been scoring against the Islanders' penalty kill at a 9-for-20 rate. The Blueshirts went 0-for-7 against a unit that lacked Nielsen and Grabner, who account for 12 of the Isles' NHL-leading 14 shorthanded goals. … Skinner has five two-goal games this season and narrowly missed his first career hat trick against the Habs, but the Canes are 4-0-1 in those games regardless. Their six goals against Montreal were the first time they scored more than four since Jan. 24 in a 6-4 win over Toronto, a span of 27 games in which they went 14-10-3. … As of Mar. 24, the Islanders led the NHL in man-games lost to injury with 512. Colorado was second with 385. Carolina had the fewest with 56, far less than second-fewest Boston with 92.
Puck drop: "We're where we should be right now at this time of the year. We're playing the hockey we should be. So we're in the fight, and that's what this is all about." -- Carolina coach Paul Maurice on his team's late surge toward the playoffs