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Tuesday, March 20th (All times eastern)

New York Islanders (34-27-10) at Tampa Bay Lightning (39-30-4), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders will be attempting to halt three-game losing streaks when the two playoff hopefuls get together this evening at the St. Pete Times Forum.

New York has actually been mired in a two-week-long funk in which the club has dropped five of six contests (1-4-1). The slide has seriously jeopardized the Islanders' postseason chances, as New York enters tonight's play locked in a three-way tie with Montreal and Toronto for ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Carolina, which is holding down the eighth and final playoff spot, is two points in front of the trio.

The Islanders' present three-game skid has coincided with a neck injury to goaltender Rick DiPietro. The former No. 1 overall pick was forced to leave last Tuesday's 5-3 loss at Montreal during the first period, and has not played in either of New York's latest losses.

DiPietro's presence has clearly been missed, as the Isles have surrendered 13 goals over their last two games, including a season-high eight in Saturday's setback to Florida. Olli Jokinen racked up five points (2 goals, 3 assists) to propel the Panthers to an 8-5 triumph at BankAtlantic Center.

Ryan Smyth and Mike Sillinger each recorded two goals and two assists for New York, but backup netminder Mike Dunham was shelled for six goals on 33 shots.

DiPietro did return to practice on Monday and could be back in the starting lineup tonight.

Tampa Bay was also dealt a lopsided defeat in its most recent outing, as Washington's Alexander Semin registered a natural hat trick in the second period to spark the Capitals to a 7-1 rout Sunday at the Verizon Center.

Filip Kuba scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who have lost three in a row for the first time since a four-game slide from December 9-16.

Johan Holmqvist started in goal for Tampa Bay, but was yanked late in the first period after stopping 11-of-13 shots faced. Marc Denis then made two saves to end the first period, but allowed three goals on as many shots to start the second before Holmqvist returned.

The Lightning, who open a key four-game homestand this evening, trail Atlanta by six points for first place in the Southeast Division and are just one point in front of the surging New York Rangers in the race for the sixth playoff seed in the East.

Tampa Bay has dominated this series as of late, as the Lightning have taken all seven encounters between the squads since the start of the 2005-06 campaign. New York has lost three straight at the St. Pete Times Forum since earning a 3-1 win there on March 16, 2004.

03/20 10:36:25 ET


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