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Points pivotal as Isles, Flyers conclude season series

A few days ago, the New York Islanders looked like they might have an inside track to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Two straight losses by the Islanders, two consecutive wins by the Boston Bruins and three straight victories by the Tampa Bay Lightning have changed all that.

Now, the Islanders (35-28-12, 82 points) will need some help if they hope to overtake the Bruins and secure a playoff berth for the third straight season and fourth in five years.

On Thursday night in Philadelphia, the Islanders will try to do something they have not been able to do in their last five games in Brooklyn: win a hockey game.

"Every game is so important right now, regardless of where we're playing or who we're playing," Islanders captain John Tavares told Newsday. "We're a desperate hockey team."

"The importance of (Thursday) is dire," Islanders coach Doug Weight said.

Dire for both teams, actually. The Islanders find themselves four points behind the Bruins and one in back of the Lightning. New York and Tampa Bay have seven games remaining while Boston has six.

But unlike the Bruins and Lightning, the Islanders close out their season with five games against teams currently out of playoff position (New Jersey twice, Buffalo, Carolina and Philadelphia) and two versus teams destined to make the playoffs (Nashville and Ottawa).

But after home losses to Boston and Nashville, the Islanders now face an uphill climb.

The Flyers (36-32-8, 80 points) have been swimming upstream for weeks. They've won two games in a row for the first time since Feb. 28 and March 2 and sit six points out of a playoff spot with just six games to play.

"There are too many teams that we're trying to catch and push ahead of," Flyers defenseman Michael Del Zotto said when asked about the team needing help to avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in five years.

"We worry about our games and hopefully we get some help, but that's out of our control. We're going to worry about Thursday's game and go from there."

The Islanders are hoping to have defenseman Johnny Boychuk back in the lineup after seeing him miss the last 12 games with an upper body injury. The Isles went 5-6-1 in that stretch.

Boychuk said he expects to play against the Flyers, but Weight said he will decide before the game. With the Islanders also playing again Friday night against the Devils, Weight said he has not yet decided whether he will split goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak.

The Flyers are expected to give Steve Mason his 14th start in 16 games.

"If anything, watching what other teams are doing is more stressful," Mason said of the Flyers' final stretch. "Teams are going to win, teams are going to lose, but we obviously have to win and that's really all that matters.

"You've got to be sharp. You have to be prepared from the first drop of the puck whether the game is going your way early or not, and you have to find ways to stick with it."

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