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GameDay Caterwaul: Florida Panthers vs New York Islanders

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Cats look to continue strong finish

NHL: New York Islanders at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers (36-32-12 84P) vs Islanders (46-27-7 99P)

  • WHEN: 7:00 p.m. ET
  • WHERE: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
  • ON THE TUBE: FOX Sports Florida, MSG+
  • ON THE DIAL: 560 WQAM (D/B), 850 WFTL (PB), 1370 WAXE (TC), Thunder 100.3 (Keys)
  • SOCIALS: #FlaPanthers, #Isles,#NYIvsFLA, @LitterBoxCats, LBC FaceBook
  • ENEMY INTEL: Lighthouse Hockey
  • FLA IN SEASON SERIES: Game 3 of 3 (2-0-0)
  • LAST MEETING: @FLA 4, NYI 2 (Recap) - 11/10/2018
  • NEXT MEETING: 2019-20
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Montembeault (4-3-1 .882/3.30 0SO) vs Greiss (22-14-2 .926/2.31 5SO)
  • PLAYER STATS: Florida / New York

Scouting Report (Courtesy of Field Level Media/AP)

The New York Islanders, who on Saturday clinched their first playoff berth since 2016, visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday night in what amounts to a tune-up for the postseason.

Twenty Islanders have playoff experience, and five have lifted the Stanley Cup for other teams: defensemen Johnny Boychuk (Boston Bruins, 2011) and Nick Leddy(Chicago Blackhawks, 2013), center Valtteri Filppula (Detroit Red Wings, 2008) and wingers Andrew Ladd (Carolina Hurricanes, 2006; Blackhawks, 2010) and Tom Kuhnhackl (Pittsburgh Penguins, 2016 and 2017).

New Islanders coach Barry Trotz is also a champ, leading the Washington Capitalsto the title last year.

”It’s always nice when you have an idea what to expect,” Kuhnhackl told Newsday. “The intensity and physicality elevates in the playoffs.”

Filppula, who has been out since March 19 due to a left shoulder injury, won’t play on Thursday but is hoping to return in time for the first round of the playoffs.

”Next guy up,” Trotz said of the injury. “We haven’t complained about it.”

New York (46-27-7, 99 points) still has an outside chance of catching Trotz’s old team for the Metropolitan Division crown. If Washington loses Thursday to Montreal and the Islanders beat the Panthers, New York’s regular-season finale at D.C. on Saturday would decide the division.

The Islanders, who have won just one playoff series since 1993, have lost both of their prior matchups against the Panthers this season. Florida beat the Islanders 3-2 on Oct. 24 as Mike Hoffman scored just 33 seconds into overtime. The Islanders were home for that game and yet blew a 2-0 third-period lead.

On Nov. 10, the location changed -- the Panthers were home this time -- but the scenario was similar. The Islanders blew a 2-1 lead that they held as late as the final minute of the second period, as Florida prevailed 4-2. Hoffman scored the tying goal in that game.

On Thursday, the Panthers (36-32-12, 84 points) will be playing with nothing to lose. They were eliminated from playoff contention last week but have won three straight games. During that streak, the Panthers have outscored their opponents 14-6, and two of the wins came against teams that have clinched playoff berths (Capitals and Bruins).

The Panthers clearly want to finish strong, but they also have other motivations.

Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov -- one of the best two-way centers in the NHL -- needs one more point to break the franchise single-season record. Barkov currently shares the mark with Pavel Bure, who reached 94 points in 1999-2000.

”It’s a nice milestone for me,” said Barkov, who had three assists in Monday’s 5-3 win over Washington. “It means I’m playing with really good players, and we’re having fun and creating chances.

”So, that’s a really fun thing. But my biggest goal is making the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup.”

Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck -- who scored twice against Washington, including an empty-netter to clinch the win -- had praise for Barkov.

”It’s a joke at this point how good he is,” Trocheck said. “It’s easy for him to create offense and score goals. I’m extremely happy for him.”

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo turns 40 on Thursday and would love to celebrate by beating the Islanders for his fourth straight win. He made 27 stops against Washington.

Other Panthers to watch include Jonathan Huberdeau and Troy Brouwer.

With one more goal or assist, Huberdeau will become the fourth member in franchise history to reach 90 points. He leads Barkov by one assist (61 to 60) for the top single-season mark in franchise history.

Brouwer leads the Panthers with 173 hits, and the 33-year-old veteran is riding a three-game goal streak.

Thursday in the Atlantic (Standings/Panthers Playoff Chances):

  • OTTAWA (29-45-6 64P) at BUFFALO (31-39-10 72P) 7 p.m.
  • TAMPA BAY (60-16-4 124P) at TORONTO (46-27- 99P) 7 p.m.
  • DETROIT (32-38-10 74P) at Pittsburgh (43-26-11 97P) 7 p.m.
  • MONTREAL (43-29-8 94P) at Washington (47-25-8 102P) 7 p.m. NBCSN
  • BOSTON (48-23-9 105P) at Minnesota (37-34-9 83P) 8 p.m NHL Network

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