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SENATORS (40-28-10) at ISLANDERS (33-34-11)
TV: SNET-E (HD), TVA, MSG PLUS (HD)
Last 10: Ottawa 5-3-2; New York 5-3-2.
Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting of the season, with all the rest played in the month of February. The Senators hold a 2-0-1 series edge, and have outscored the Isles 11-2 over the previous two meetings — including a 6-0 thrashing in the only other meeting at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Big Story: Thanks to the Buffalo Sabres' loss in Toronto on Saturday night, the Senators — who have won three straight — are in position to clinch an Eastern Conference playoff berth with a win today on Long Island. However, New York won’t be an easy out. The Islanders have won five of their last seven.
Senators: Following a rough mid-March run in which they lost five of six — including two to Montreal — the Senators have roared back to end the month on a high note. Thanks to high-scoring wins over Pittsburgh, Winnipeg and Philadelphia, Ottawa has once again created a measure of separation. On Saturday, Ottawa gutted out an important win in Philadelphia. The Sens jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead before conceding three times in the second. After a scoreless third and overtime, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek converted in the shootout for a 4-3 win. Craig Anderson, in net for all three wins, made 36 saves for the win.
"We had a momentum swing in the second period we didn't handle very well," said Anderson. "We regrouped after the second, came out in the third and played a really solid third period. That's the reason we got the point and won it in the shootout."
Islanders: The New York Islanders have known for a while that they would likely be enjoying an early summer vacation. But that hasn't stopped them from building for the future and showing off a little bit of the present. The Isles have won five of seven over the past two weeks, including an improbable home-and-home sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Call it a Sidney Crosby hangover, but the Islanders couldn't duplicate those efforts on Saturday against Boston. The Isles kept it close through two — they entered the third tied 2-2 — but Boston scored four times in the third and wound up winning, 6-3.
"They exposed us in the third," coach Jack Capuano said. "I thought the last few games we played pretty well. The power play could have been the difference tonight with the score tied and we didn't generate too many chances there."
Who's Hot: Kyle Okposo — at 23, yet another manifestation of the Isles promising young stock — has six goals in his last five games … Spezza also had a goal in regulation Saturday, and has three goals and four assists in his last four games.
Injury Report: Ottawa goalie Ben Bishop (lower body) and centre Peter Regin (left shoulder surgery) will miss the remainder of the season, but Jesse Winchester (concussion) returns today after being sidelined since Dec. 20 … Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (lower body) missed Saturday's game, and Rick DiPietro (sports hernia surgery) is out indefinitely.
Stat Pack: Though they squandered both opportunities on Saturday, the Islanders are ninth league-wide in power-play conversion at 19.2 per cent. They converted man advantages in both wins against Pittsburgh, and will need to bring that opportunism into Sunday's tilt.
Puck Drop: While everyone in the Senators dressing room looks forward to the opportunity to nail down a playoff spot, Winchester has extra reason for excitement. Given his three-month absence from the lineup, no wonder the native of Long Sault, Ont., is "overjoyed at being able to play."
“It’s a special day for me,” he said. “It’s been a long time. I don’t think I would have ever guessed it would take this long (to play again), but it has and I’ve prepared the way I’m supposed to prepare. I’ve passed all the (required protocoal) tests. It’s going to be great to be back with the team.”
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