What a wild ride the playoff bubble race in both conferences has become. Tonight we get to see Carolina -- recently on the outside looking in -- try to solidify its push after winning six home games in a row. Their latest scalp was that of the Brodeur Worshipers. They currently hang on to 8th place by one point.
Former Cup-winning Hurricane rental Doug Weight is of course still out of the lineup. But he's hoping to be back this season -- and next, too, as I've occasionally argued for during this strange Tavares-friendly ride. Brandon Sutter, who Weight took out with a clean but unfortunate hit in October, is also out, having been sent to Albany for more seasoning. So no Mottau/Nielsen-like revenge issues hang over this game.
New York Islanders (24-38-8, 30th) at Carolina Hurricanes (37-27-7, 8th/E)
7 p.m. EDT | [bank-like acronym of some sort] Center | MSG+2 (twice the plus!)
Carolina already took the two games on Long Island this season. The last one, that ugly 6-2 loss Feb. 19, was the last awful game the Islanders have played.
Random Sartorial Rant
The Hurricanes' third jersey -- part of the nauseating and never-ending league trend to go "none more blacker" in a truly Spinal Tap way -- is an absolute washout on non-HD TV. With its black accented by silver, combined with opponents' white, it makes games look like they're televised in ancient black-and-white. Up close, it's an okay design given the team's signal flag motif. On TV, a failure. I hate you RBK (vowels not included). I hate you very much.
The trio of Peter Mannino (fresh off his first NHL win) and forwards Joel Rechlicz and Mike Iggulden are back, having been sent to Bridgeport during the big club's break. Good possibility Mannino gets one start from this back-to-back. [Update: And Logan says it looks like Mannino's start is tonight.]
Tavares/Hedman Lottery Watch
Seems like forever and a day since the Islanders have played, and it wouldn't be a shock to see them come out flat tonight while they regain their sea legs. But how have the four game-less days treated them in the hunt for a 48.2% chance at Tavares? Not too bad: Tampa Bay is now five points ahead, while Colorado, Atlanta and Phoenix are each a minimum 8 points ahead.
"Those games are fun," Kyle Okposo said yesterday after practice. "All the pressure's on them. They need wins to get into the playoffs and it's great going into an arena knowing that's the situation especially on the road."
The Islanders have at least one game in hand on each of those fellow Tavares combatants. But the phenomenon of low-pressure, play-for-jobs and spoil-the-playoffs energy Okposo references has been in evidence in surprising wins from each of these basement teams.
So look at it this way: With 12 games left, does anyone see a five- to eight-point margin as the kind of surmountable difference for a playoff bubble team like Anaheim? No? Then no reason to expect that from a basement-dweller, either. Despite their improved run, the Islanders' lottery position is starting to look secure.