The New York Islanders advanced to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time in the last quarter-century by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in April. The surging Islanders will be seeking an even rarer achievement Thursday, when the Penguins visit Brooklyn for the season's first meeting between the Metropolitan Division rivals.
The Islanders extended their winning streak to 10 games Tuesday, when they beat the visiting Ottawa Senators 4-1. The Penguins last played Monday, when they fell to the host Boston Bruins 6-4.
The win over the Senators gave the Islanders sole possession of the second-longest winning streak in franchise history, snapping a tie with the 1989-90 team. Only the 1981-82 club, which won 15 in a row, enjoyed a longer winning streak.
The Islanders' winning streak is the longest in the NHL since the Tampa Bay Lightning won 10 in a row from Feb. 9-27. The most recent 11-game winning streak was mounted by the St. Louis Blues from Jan. 23-Feb. 19.
The Lightning went on to win the Presidents' Trophy while the Blues won the Stanley Cup. And the 1981-82 Islanders won the third of the team's four straight Stanley Cups.
But the Islanders aren't spending any time pondering what might be come next spring.
"After games, we're not having a big party - we know we have a big test vs. Pittsburgh coming up," Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday night. "We just take it game by game. We really do."
The Penguins are adopting a similar philosophy as they deal with a spate of injuries while trying to snap a recent slump. Pittsburgh has lost two in a row and has dropped five of seven (2-4-1) since opening the season 6-2-0.
The loss to the Bruins was doubly costly for the Penguins. Star defenseman Kris Letang left with a lower-body injury and the team hasn't updated his status.
"Obviously, he's one of the best defensemen in the league," Penguins rookie defenseman John Marino told reporters Monday night. "We're missing a key element there, but we're just going to need everyone to step up their game, have some people fill in and do their job."
The Penguins already have dealt with a long-term injury to one of their core players this season. Center Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup last Saturday after missing almost a month with a lower-body injury.
Semyon Varlamov is expected to get the start in net Thursday for the Islanders, who have employed a true time share with Varlamov starting the odd-numbered games and Thomas Greiss starting the even-numbered contests. Varlamov recorded a shutout last Saturday, when he stopped 27 shots in New York's 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Penguins' No. 1 goalie, Matt Murray, will likely start Thursday after making an early exit Monday, when he allowed three goals on 11 shots before being pulled in the second period.
Thursday's game is the first between the two teams since Apr. 16, when the Islanders completed a four-game sweep of the first-round series with a 3-1 win in Pittsburgh. New York was swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference semifinals.