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Islanders, Hurricanes hoping to avoid last place

NEW YORK -- For the first few weeks of 2018, a jam-packed Metropolitan Division offered hope to the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes that their final regular season game against each other would carry major playoff implications.

Instead, untimely slumps by the Islanders and Hurricanes ensure they'll be playing for nothing other than the chance to avoid last place Sunday, when New York hosts Carolina at Barclays Center.

Both teams absorbed losses in their most recent games. The Islanders fell to the Washington Capitals for the second time in as many nights Friday 6-3. The Hurricanes dropped their third straight Saturday, when the visiting Philadelphia Flyers scored four times in the third period, including three unanswered goals over the final 12 minutes to earn a come-from-behind 4-2 victory.

Whomever continues skidding Sunday will fall into last place in the Metropolitan. The Hurricanes (30-30-11) are one point ahead of the Islanders (30-31-10), who have lost 10 of 11 (1-6-4) to slip into the basement. The teams are a respective 11 and 12 points behind New Jersey Devils in the race for the Eastern Conference's second wild card.

"I think the realistic part of it is, obviously, the odds are stacked against us," Islanders center and captain John Tavares told reporters after practice Saturday. "I think you always play no matter what, you never know what can happen. But trying to think about winning 10, 11 games in a row is kind of tough to grasp in just a single thought. Mostly, we've just got to prepare for (Sunday). We just want to get back in the win column."

The Hurricanes are feeling the same way after losing 11 of 14 (3-9-2) to all but ensure they will miss the playoffs for an NHL-high ninth straight season. To return to the win column, Carolina will need to shore up its defense late in games. It has given up a whopping 12 third period goals during the current three-game losing streak.

"I think some guys are fully vested, and some guys aren't quite where they should be, or need to be," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said following Saturday's loss. "Fragile for sure, but you don't forget how to win."

Islanders coach Doug Weight said Saturday afternoon he would probably give the start in net Sunday to No. 1 Jaroslav Halak. The Hurricanes are expected to counter with backup Scott Darling after usual starting netminder Cam Ward made 23 saves while taking the loss Saturday night.

Halak took the loss Friday, when he recorded 25 saves against the Capitals. Darling hasn't played since Monday, when he was the losing goalie after making 17 saves in a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers.

Halak is 3-5-1 in 10 career appearances against the Hurricanes. Darling is 2-2-0 in four games against the Islanders.
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