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Underachieving Isles aim to start climb vs. Blackhawks

NEW YORK -- It is not even Christmas yet, and the New York Islanders season is already on the brink. Head coach Jack Capuano is definitely out of patience with his underachieving team.

The Islanders will look to begin their long-shot climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race Thursday night, when they host the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks at Barclays Center.

The Blackhawks began a three-game road trip Tuesday with a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers. The Islanders continued skidding Tuesday, when they gave up a pair of third-period goals in a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals.

It was the second straight game in which the Islanders were tied after two periods only to lose by multiple goals. The Columbus Blue Jackets scored four unanswered goals in the third period of a 6-2 win on Saturday night.

Earlier this season, the Islanders suffered five losses in which they surrendered the tying or go-ahead goal in the final three minutes of regulation.

"It's frustrating, because you know the ability's there," Capuano said of the Islanders. who reached the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring for the first time since the 1992-93 season. "I don't know where it's gone. But I'm losing my patience a little bit with some of the guys."

Any personnel changes may be too late for the Islanders (11-11-5), who are in last place in the Eastern Conference.

New York's task is made even tougher by the fact it plays in the Metropolitan Division and thus has little chance of sneaking into the playoffs as a third-place team in a mediocre division. The first-place Pittsburgh Penguins and third-place Blue Jackets are each in the midst of seven-game winning streaks. The two wild card teams -- the fourth-place Philadelphia Flyers and fifth-place Capitals -- have 10 straight and five straight, respectively. The New York Rangers were also streaking before falling to the Blackhawks on Tuesday.

Things are much less dire for the Blackhawks (19-8-4), who appear primed to contend for their fourth Stanley Cup in the last eight seasons. Chicago is comfortably ahead of its nearest foe, the Minnesota Wild, in the West despite battling a litany of injuries to stars such as center Jonathan Toews, who missed nine games with a back injury before returning Tuesday, and goalie Corey Crawford, who underwent an appendectomy on Dec. 3. Crawford has yet to resume skating.

In the six games since Crawford was sidelined, backup Scott Darling has allowed just eight goals while leading the Blackhawks to a 3-2-1 record.

"He makes huge saves in the key time," Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov said Tuesday night. "Amazing right now."

Darling seems likely to draw the start again Thursday night against either Jaroslav Halak or Thomas Greiss. Halak has started five of the last six games for the Islanders but could travel ahead of his teammates to Buffalo, where New York is scheduled to face the Sabres on Friday night.

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