NHL Hockey

Isles set to welcome Capitals for key Metro clash

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Head coach Barry Trotz likes that the New York Islanders have gotten a preview of life in the playoffs the last several days. Good thing, because another postseason-type game awaits Trotz and the Islanders on Friday night.

The Islanders will follow up their most raucous victory of the season by trying to maintain sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division when they host the Washington Capitals.

Both teams are coming off lopsided wins. The Islanders will be completing an eventful back-to-back set at Nassau Coliseum after routing the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1 Thursday night. The Capitals were off a second straight night after cruising past the visiting Ottawa Senators, 7-2, on Tuesday.

The Islanders' win snapped a tie with the Capitals atop the Metropolitan Division. But that might have been secondary to a sellout crowd of 13,917, which reveled in the domination of the Maple Leafs in John Tavares' first game against his former team since he signed with Toronto as a free agent last July.

Tavares, who spent nine seasons with the Islanders and served as team captain the final five years, was booed mercilessly and the target of often-profane chants from the moment he hit the ice during warmups Thursday night.

The charged environment seemed to invigorate the Islanders, who lost three of their previous four games before busting out for their biggest offensive outburst since a 6-3 win over the Senators on Dec. 28. Trotz said he expects a similar feeling Friday against the Capitals, whom he coached to the Stanley Cup title last season before joining New York.

"These type of games during the grind of a season are actually great to have because they have a very emotional aspect to (them)," Trotz said afterward. "(Friday) night, Washington, they're here, they want first place. They're a helluva hockey team. They've got all the pieces. Obviously, they're the defending champs. So (Friday) night we've got to bring our 'A' game. It's another important game. We need the points."

So, too, do the Capitals, who have closed the gap on the Islanders by winning eight of their last 12 (8-3-1). Washington is four points ahead of the third-place Columbus Blue Jackets and five points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, who are tied for the second and final Eastern Conference wild-card spot.

"It's a tight race in the Metro," Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said following practice Thursday. "How it's going to play out, kind of looks like it's going to go right down to the wire for everybody. That's good to play competitive games at the end of the year."

No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner earned the win against the Maple Leafs by making 34 saves, which means backup Thomas Greiss is likely to start for the Islanders against the Capitals and their top goaltender, Braden Holtby.

Greiss hasn't played since Feb. 20, when he took the loss after recording 28 saves in the Islanders' 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames. Holtby recorded the win Tuesday by making 21 saves against the Senators.

Greiss is 3-2-1 in six regular-season games against the Capitals. Holtby is 15-5-3 in 23 regular-season appearances against the Islanders.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 1, 2019

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