NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders traveled more than 12,000 miles over the past three weeks, a stretch in which they played nine games and creeped one point closer in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.
But standing still during the longest road trip in franchise history sure beats the alternative.
The Islanders finally return home Monday, when they host the Carolina Hurricanes in a matchup of Metropolitan Division rivals. New York ended its epic road trip with a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, the same night Carolina fell 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime.
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The results Saturday cost the Islanders a chance to head home with sole possession of the second Eastern Conference wild card. Instead, New York (32-24-11) enters Monday one point behind the Maple Leafs (31-22-14) in the race for the final playoff spot.
The Islanders were two points out of a wild-card spot Feb. 19, when they left Barclays Center following a 6-4 win over the New Jersey Devils. New York went 5-3-1 on the road trip, an impressive feat for a team that began the trip with just seven road wins all season. Still, interim head coach Doug Weight wondered what might have been with a win Saturday.
"Moving forward, you have to wash your memory," Weight said. "It was 5-3-1 against some formidable opponents. We'll take it, but it's disappointing."
While the Islanders remained in the thick of the wild-card race over the past few weeks, the Hurricanes (27-27-11) have all but fallen out of contention by losing seven of their past 10 (3-4-3). Carolina, which is 11 points behind the Maple Leafs, will have two chances in as many days to try and spoil New York's playoff push: The teams play again Tuesday night at PNC Arena.
Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said he hopes he and his teammates can build on the momentum they gained in the past two games when they took three points against the Maple Leafs and the wild-card-leading New York Rangers.
"Gives us confidence going into the rest of the stretch of games here," Slavin said.
Both No. 1 net-minders -- the Islanders' Thomas Greiss and the Hurricanes' Cam Ward -- are likely to start Monday. Greiss started all nine games on the road trip, though he was lifted following the second period Saturday. Ward started the past two games for Carolina following a brief benching.
The road trip was a costly one for the Islanders, who lost four players to injury. Center Casey Cizikas (broken hand) is on injured reserve and has missed the past eight games, while center Alan Quine (upper body) missed the past six games. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk (lower body) has been out four games, and left winger Shane Prince (leg) has sat out three games.
The Hurricanes may be without rookie right winger Valentin Zykov, who sustained an upper-body injury in his second NHL game Saturday. He could be replaced in the lineup by center Lucas Wallmark, who was recalled from Charlotte of the AHL on Sunday. Wallmark will be making his NHL debut when he appears in a game.