Pens gunning for Metro lead, Isles grasping at playoff spot

PITTSBURGH -- With three teams already over 100 points, the biggest question in the Metropolitan Division these days seems to be whether the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals or Columbus Blue Jackets will win the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team and claim home-ice advantage for the postseason.

For the New York Islanders, the only relevant query is whether they will qualify for the postseason.

With 80 points and 10 games remaining, the Islanders sit two points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild-card seeding in the Eastern Conference. In addition to having two games in hand on the Bruins, the Islanders have three sets of back-to-back contests in the season's final three weeks, including contests in Pittsburgh on Friday and at Barclays Center against the Bruins on Saturday.

Due to backup goaltender Jean-Francois Berube's recent struggles, the Islanders recalled former starter Jaroslav Halak from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League. Halak is expected to split some of those back-to-back contests with starter Thomas Greiss.

"I'm happy to be back," Halak told the team's website after practice at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday. "I'm just going to try to help the guys and we'll see what happens. I know we've got a crazy schedule coming up, and any point is valuable for getting to the playoffs."

Before being assigned to Bridgeport on Dec. 31, Halak, a former All-Star, was placed on waivers. With Bridgeport, Halak played in 27 AHL games and had a 17-7-3 record with a 2.15 goals-against-average and .925 save percentage.

"He went down and found his game," Islanders interim coach Doug Weight said. "Every report I got was about how great his attitude was and how great he's playing and how great the team is playing in front of him. He's been a pro. He's gone down and did what he had to do and found his game and we're excited to have him back."

Following a 2-1 shootout loss on the road to the Senators on Friday, the Penguins sit in second place with 102 points, two fewer than the first-place Capitals. They've been able to stay in contention for first place despite missing several of their top players, including All-Star center Evgeni Malkin, who has been sidelined four games due to a shoulder injury.

"He's an elite player," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's a hard guy to replace. ... That's been a little bit of a challenge for us. But we've got capable people (to fill in)."

One of those people has been center Nick Bonino, who has seven goals in his past nine games. He was limited to nine goals in his first 63.

"I think when you see the puck go in so often, you almost think your shot is harder or better than it is," Bonino said. "You just have a little confidence to shoot it. I'm not changing anything that I've done. It's just going in."

According to Newsday, Islanders right winger Ryan Strome will miss the remainder of the regular season due to a broken wrist.
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