Fading Hopes

The New York Islanders failed to add much-needed scoring at the trading deadline. That lack of action may be the reason they find themselves out of the playoffs for the second time in three years.

The slumping Islanders hope to avoid their fourth loss in five games Sunday afternoon when they host the fading Florida Panthers.

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Since playing themselves back into the playoff race with a season-high six-game winning streak from Feb. 12-21, the Islanders (31-28-7) have lost three of four. That slump has dropped them four points behind Philadelphia, which holds the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

New York had a golden opportunity to tie the Flyers and Buffalo for eighth place on Saturday, but special teams were a problem again in a costly 4-1 loss.

Bill Guerin scored his 20th goal for the Islanders, who have an Eastern Conference-low 165 goals, including two or fewer in four of the last five games.

"Today was a big game and it just closes that window even more for us," Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt told the team's official Web site. "We're playing for our lives right now. It's key to get on a bit of a run and we'll be back in the thick of things. We'll reflect on this but we have a big game tomorrow."

Guerin's goal was a rare power-play tally for New York, which had scored only once in its previous 28 chances with the man advantage.

Philadelphia's third goal came short-handed, the NHL-high 13th goal the Islanders have allowed when on a power play.

"It seems like their penalty killers are jumping on the top guy, and that's happened a few times to us,'' New York's Miroslav Satan said.

Rick DiPietro, who stopped 27 of 30 shots Saturday, hasn't been sharp lately, allowing 15 goals in his last four starts. DiPietro, whose grandmother died this week, left the team immediately after Saturday's game to attend the wake and won't play Sunday.

Wade Dubielewicz, who will make his first start since Jan. 3, has won three of his last four games. This will be his first career start against Florida (28-31-8).

The Panthers haven been unable to move up the standings and will need a very strong final month to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

Minnesota handed Florida its third straight loss and sixth in seven games, 3-2 on Friday.

Steve Montador and Nathan Horton had goals for the Panthers, losers of five of seven on the road.

Captain Olli Jokinen was held without a goal for the eighth time in nine games and has only three points in that span.

"Obviously, we're in a bad position,'' goalie Tomas Vokoun said. "We have to focus on one game at a time. We need to win.''

Vokoun is winless in his last six overall starts, going 0-4-2 with a 3.76 goals-against average. He has had no trouble with the Islanders, however, allowing only five goals during a five-game win streak against them.

The Panthers have won both meetings this season against the Islanders, including a 4-3 overtime victory on Jan. 3 at Nassau Coliseum. New York, though, has at least one point in four straight home games versus Florida (3-0-1).

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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