Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders

Isles prep for ‘huge’ final home game of regular season

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Schedule makers didn’t do the New York Islanders any favors with their end-of-season stretch.

But for now, the team isn’t focusing on the negatives.

The Isles will play their final home game of the regular season on Tuesday against Florida — then set out on a five-game road swing to finish the year.

Needless to say, New York recognizes the importance of tonight’s affair.

“It’s huge,” forward Keith Aucoin told Newsday. “We had a real physical and emotionally draining game against the Rangers [on Saturday]. We have to make sure we play with the same effort.

“We need to finish our home games with a win, not only that it’s important to the standings. It’s almost a must-win game for us.”

After tonight’s game, the Isles will set out on a trip through Toronto, Winnipeg, Carolina, Philadelphia and Buffalo, with the final two contests of the year coming in a back-to-back situation (Flyers on Apr. 25; Sabres on Apr. 26).

It’s not an ideal schedule — no team wants to play its final home game 10 days before the end of the regular season — but few teams are better equipped to deal with an extended period away from home.

The Isles have one of the best road records in the East this season (12-5-2) and have secured at least a point in seven of their last eight road games.

Speaking of points, New York heads into tonight’s action holding the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, three points clear of ninth-place Winnipeg and one up on the eighth-place Rangers.

Needless to say, points are at a premium. There are 12 left for grabs, and leading scorer John Tavares wants them all.

“Obviously, 12 is what we’d like to get,” he said. “Obviously, earn as many of these 12 as we can. Every game, we need results. It’s a big game, it’s our final game at home.

“We want to take advantage of that, finish the year at home on a good note.”

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.

Outdoor game rumors: Jets host Oilers, Red Wings at Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings face off during the first period of the Winter Classic outdoor NHL hockey game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, and so are rumors about hockey fans bundling up for outdoor games next season.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went over two possible outdoor matchups coming for 2016-17 during Saturday’s Headlines segment.

A smart move for a potential game in Winnipeg: Imagine the Jets hosting a game in Winnipeg in February? Ilya Bryzgalov almost turned off his TV in protest.

Instead, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Jets are likely to host the Edmonton Oilers in October. That would be a smart logistical move, as long as it isn’t too hot.

(Also, playing it then would hopefully increase the odds of the mainstream sporting public seeing Connor McDavid in an outdoor game.)

Toronto’s turn: Friedman reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to host the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Winter Classic (or at least an outdoor game), almost certainly on New Year’s Day 2017.

The two teams combined for a great Winter Classic at Ann Arbor in 2014, so that could be a fun time.

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Keep in mind these are reports (and well-placed ones at that) rather than official announcements for the NHL. These things could always change.

Related: Could the Penguins host the Flyers outdoors next season, too?

Ducks likely to recall Khudobin after Gibson injury

Chicago Blackhawks' Richard Panik (14), of Slovakia, collides with Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Chicago. Anaheim won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
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“Costly victories” may have been one of the themes of Saturday night, as some teams paired impressive wins with worrisome injuries.

The good news is that, in each case, it appears that the early word is optimistic about those players (Tyler Seguin got stitched up in the Stars’ win, for example).

The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly readying to recall Anton Khudobin on Sunday after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.

Again, so far the hope/expectation is that this might not be a major issue:

The pessimistic take would be to wonder “Uh oh, is the Ducks goalie carousel starting again?”

Frederik Andersen has seen some runs as Anaheim’s No. 1 guy, so maybe this issue is a reminder that the Ducks may be better off keeping both Gibson and Andersen around … at least while they can.

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.