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Islanders hope for better result vs. Leafs

TORONTO -- The New York Islanders will be trying to avoid a repeat of their last visit to the Air Canada Centre when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

The Maple Leafs defeated them 5-0 on Jan. 31 and the Islanders return to the ACC needing every point possible in their desperate pursuit of a playoff spot.

The Islanders (29-26-6) are 4-6-1 since the All-Star break and are one point removed from a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference after losing 5-3 to the Minnesota Wild on Monday.

"We're going to play a hungry team with a lot on the line, who didn't have a good night here last time," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday. "They have a lot on the line."

The Maple Leafs (37-20-5) remained third in the Eastern Conference after their 1-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday and are playing for their seeding in the playoffs.

"It's an unusual spot we're in, getting points but not really gaining a ton of ground," Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "But we'll keep cranking along, trying to catch (the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning) for home ice (advantage). You get to a Game 7, that's pretty important."

The Maple Leafs, who will host the second-place Bruins on Saturday and visit the Lightning on Monday, have won 12 of their past 15 games.

"I thought we were real loose today in practice and I don't care, but you have to have the intensity and get better each and every day," Babcock said. "Being loose is a sign of feeling good and there's nothing wrong with that, but that doesn't mean you can't prepare right."

Islanders coach Doug Weight, meanwhile, liked the attitude of his team on Wednesday.

"We had really good meetings and a really good purposeful practice," he said. "It's a good feeling in our room right now... I'm excited where we're going. It's a tough road ahead, but we're going to hit it with everything we have."

Before their loss to the Wild, the Islanders had won the previous two games by shutouts. The difference Monday was a three-goal spree by the Wild in a span of 4:12 in the second period.

"The whole game was winnable," Weight said after the loss. "We played well. Three bad decisions. ... If you were playing better, consistent hockey throughout the year, you chalk it up as a couple of bad decisions and you march on. But now the points are so paramount important that it's a big punch in the stomach."

Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss earned his first shutout of the season Friday night but suffered a lower-body injury late in the game. He finished the game but Monday, he was put on injured reserve and Christopher Gibson was called up from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.

"I don't suspect it's going to be a huge amount of time," Weight said. "But I don't want to speak out of turn because if I say two weeks, four weeks, and they find something else, I don't want to put him in that position. Certainly, lower-body injuries for goalies are a little tougher to decipher. But he's on the IR. He played great. Hopefully he can take that energy he had and that feeling and get back quick."
Jaroslav Halak has made most of the starts in goal for the Islanders since late November.

Halak played Monday against the Wild. Greiss was in goal against the Maple Leafs on Jan. 31 and faced 50 shots, stopping 45 of them.

Greiss also stopped 45 shots Friday in his 3-0 shutout against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"The timing is disappointing," Weight said. "Probably some of our worst games were when (Greiss) was in net, and it was kind of disappointing. But he battled and looked better."

The Islanders are 13-15-2 on the road; the Maple Leafs are 20-8-2 at home.
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