New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: So many playoff games tonight

Rub his head for luck. - Bruce Bennett

I am nervous at all times now.

UPDATE: Matt Moulson has the flu and will miss the game for the first time as an Islander. Ironman streak is over. Michael Grabner to the first line, both Anders Lee and Jesse Joensuu in the lineup.

It's only the third of a three-game lockout-shortened season series, but with a win tonight the Islanders would sweep the season series from the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time since 2001-02.

That season was okay, I guess.

Far more importantly, and if they hope to create playoff highlights again, the Isles need points tonight to keep pace. They need points from their relatively softer schedule down the stretch. Of course, the Bolts are just six points behind and have two games in hand, and they have the potential to find new life on a short run with their new goalie.

In other standings-important games, the Flyers play in Winnipeg, the Leafs play in New Jersey, the Short Island Smurfs play in Carolina, and the Capitals play in Florida. The scenarios hurt the brain, so just win, boys.

Nyi-islim_medium Tb-slim_medium
Islanders (18-16-4, 8th/E) vs Lightning (16-18-2, 14th/E)
7 p.m. | MSG+2 (
twice the plus!) | Audio: NHL - WRHU
Nassau [
gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
Got no Hed, Man?:
Raw Charge

The Islanders sound like they're in focused playoff drive mode, which should be good. As the schedule winds down and the stakes remain high each night, coaches and players want to double down on treating each shift with strategic focus on role, responsibility, matchup, etc.

Coming out of the morning skate, you're seeing more comments like:

Coach says it's important now that the team focuses on "playing hard on their skilled players" and understanding the situation & matchup.

Full audio from Capuano here.

And from Colin McDonald, who's had a dream first full season in the NHL:

Right now it's about us and how we're going to play opposed to the opponent. Anybody can beat anybody at this point.

Oh yes they can. Because hockey is such a toss up. It really is. There are so many things you can do right in a game and still have things not go your way. (And let's not even get into those darned goalies.) That's one reason it makes a horrible sport in Vegas ("Oh, yes. One team or the other will probably win 2-1 or 3-2 or maybe a shootout. Let's definitely wager on that.").

So the reason you'll hear about this time of year, where non-playoff teams play "loose" and bubble teams play "tight" is because even if the higher team plays clinical and calculated, one bad bounce -- or a few risks gone right for the opponent -- can help the lower team succeed. For the out-of-the-playoffs team, why not take risks? If it pays off, you get some fun pond hockey goals. If it doesn't, it's just another loss.

Lineup and Gameday Notes

The Islanders got it done on the road last time, shutting out Tampa Bay 2-0 in a clinical display. More of that, please.

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks in this thread.. Standings are updated, and we're getting down to the wire.

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