TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
NEW YORK — The Tampa Bay Lightning proved Tuesday night they weren’t intimidated by a three-goal deficit.
On Thursday night, Tampa Bay will try to overcome an even bigger foe: Mother Nature.
With the New York area digging out from another March snowstorm, the Islanders will host the Lightning on Thursday night, when the two Eastern Conference teams face each other for the final time this season.
Both teams earned resounding wins Tuesday. The Islanders ended a three-game losing streak by beating the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-1. The host Lightning scored four unanswered goals in the final 25 minutes to stun the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.
The comeback win by the Lightning (50-19-4) has them four points ahead of the second-place Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division and allowed Tampa Bay to pull within two points of the Nashville Predators in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
If the Lightning are going to keep the pressure on the Bruins and Predators, it will do so on shorter rest than usual. The storm that dropped a foot or more of snow on parts of metropolitan New York forced the postponement of Tampa Bay’s flight north Wednesday. Instead, the team is scheduled to travel Thursday morning.
“It doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t change anything,” Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said following practice Wednesday. “Even if we travel on game day, we’re going to be ready for the game. (They’re) going to have time to nap and get ready for the game.”
The unseasonably snowy weather in the northeast couldn’t dampen the mood of the Islanders (31-32-10), who won Tuesday for only the second time in the last 13 games. The 2-9-2 skid has all but ended the playoff hopes for New York, which enters Thursday tied for last place in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Rangers.
Still, beating the playoff-bound and two-time defending Stanley Cup champions Penguins served to remind the Islanders it wasn’t long ago when they harbored hopes of a deep playoff run. New York opened the season 15-7-2 and still occupied a wild card spot as recently as Feb. 16.
“It’s been frustrating the last 25, 30 games,” Islanders center Mathew Barzal told reporters Tuesday night. “A lot of unfortunate things have happened. We took a turn for the worse and it’s unfortunate, because we were cruising pretty good there at the start of the year and things were looking good.”
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and Islanders rookie netminder Christopher Gibson are likely to start Thursday after earning wins Tuesday. Vasilevskiy recorded 27 saves against the Maple Leafs while Gibson, who made his fifth start in the last eight games as New York enters evaluation mode down the stretch, notched 36 saves against the Penguins.
Vasilevskiy is 3-2-0 with a 1.73 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in six career regular-season appearances against the Islanders. Gibson, who recorded his second NHL win Tuesday, has never faced the Lightning.