Jets, Isles clash in key Eastern battle

Both in the thick of a very tight race for a playoff spot, the New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets square off on Saturday afternoon at MTS Centre.

The Islanders sit seventh overall in the Eastern Conference thanks to a nine- game point streak (7-0-2). They are one point ahead of the eighth-place New York Rangers and three up on the Winnipeg Jets, who occupy the ninth spot in the conference with four games left to play for all three teams.

While also looking to hold off the Jets and Rangers, the Isles are just a point back of the sixth-place Ottawa Senators in the standings and two back of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who sit fifth.

The Jets, meanwhile, have posted their longest winning streak since relocating Winnipeg from Atlanta. They have won five straight and only sit two points behind the Washington Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division. The Caps also have four games left in the regular season and visit the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

Looking to end a five-year playoff drought, the Islanders bested the hosting Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 on Thursday as John Tavares continued his MVP-like season. The forward scored twice and added an assist as he ranks third in the NHL with 26 goals.

Brad Boyes added a goal and two assists, while Matt Moulson and Frans Nielsen also scored. Evgeni Nabokov made 18 saves to help New York extend its longest point streak since going 9-0-1 with a tie to open the 2001-02 season.

"When your forwards are making good decisions and winning all the battles, it makes it a lot easier for us," said New York defenseman Andrew MacDonald, part of a defense that has not allowed more than three goals in 13 straight games.

New York won the opener of a season-ending five-game road trip that still includes trips to Carolina, Philadelphia and Buffalo.

The Jets, meanwhile, have not reached the playoffs since the franchise's lone appearance in 2007. However, their five-game winning streak is the longest for the club since the Thrashers won six straight from Nov. 19-30, 2010.

Dustin Byfuglien scored the game-winner in Thursday's 4-3 overtime triumph versus the Hurricanes, putting home a rebound off an Andrew Ladd shot 1:23 into the bonus frame.

Ladd had three assists, giving him four goals and 12 points over a six-game point streak, while Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little extended their respective point streaks to five games. Wheeler had a goal and two assists versus the Hurricanes and has three goals and seven assists over his run, while Little's two assists give him eight helpers and nine points over his streak.

Ondrej Pavelec posted 24 saves on 27 shots in the victory.

"I guess you feel the pressure a little bit, but as professionals, you're just playing another game," said defenseman Zach Bogosian, who also scored. "I think you've got to get the two points and that's what we've done the last little bit here. But as far as how intense the games are and how close they've been, I guess that can roll over to somewhat of a playoff series."

The Jets will end a six-game homestand today and will play their next two on the road, including at Washington on April 23, before ending the regular season at home versus the Canadiens on Thursday.

The Jets and Islanders have traded home wins this season, with New York winning four of the past five overall. The Isles had won three straight as the guest in this series before a 5-4 overtime loss in Winnipeg on Jan. 27.