Isles visit Panthers, aim to extend Metro lead

( - The New York Islanders hope to extend a slim lead atop the Metropolitan Division on Saturday night when they visit the struggling Florida Panthers.

The Islanders lead the division with 87 points, two more than the idle New York Rangers, though the Blueshirts have played three fewer games than their Long Island counterparts. The Pittsburgh Penguins also are lurking at four points off the Isles' pace.

New York opened a four-game road trip on Tuesday with an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars but followed up with a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators two nights later.

Brock Nelson highlighted a wild third period by scoring the game-winner with 6:08 to play. His 18th tally of the season came just over three minutes after the Predators scored twice in a 31-second span to tie the contest.

John Tavares and Nick Leddy each tallied a goal and an assist, Anders Lee also lit the lamp and Jaroslav Halak made 28 saves for the Islanders. Johnny Boychuk notched a pair of assists in the win.

"We thought we played a pretty good game and they responded well," said Tavares. "We got a big play from Brock. It was good to see him get the winner."

Islanders forward Matt Martin is eligible to return to the lineup tonight after serving a one-game suspension for his kneeing incident on Stars defenseman Trevor Daley on Tuesday.

The Panthers, meanwhile, look to shake off their second loss in a row and sixth in eight games as they chase a playoff spot. They are two points out of the Eastern Conference's second wild card spot held by the Boston Bruins, who host the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.

Minus their top two goaltenders because of injury, Florida lost a 4-3 shootout to the Stars on Thursday. Dan Ellis made 29 saves in his first start of the season as Roberto Luongo (sprained right shoulder) and Al Montoya (groin) missed the game due to injuries sustained in Tuesday's loss to Toronto.

Goaltender Sam Brittain was called up from Cincinnati of the ECHL to serve as Ellis' backup.

Dmitry Kulikov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Brandon Pirri lit the lamp for the Panthers, with Huberdeau's goal his first in 19 games.

In addition to their goaltender injuries, the Panthers were missing defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell and forward Jaromir Jagr on Thursday due to flu-like symptoms. Mitchell was set to return from a 15-game absence caused by an upper-body injury.

"I'm not one for making excuses, but tonight it didn't look too good coming into the game," said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant. "We found out guys were sick, didn't show up to the game, and then four guys played tonight pretty sick too. We battled hard, we competed hard, down 2-0 to come back and got a point."

The Panthers and Isles have split the first two of three meetings this season, but New York has won six of the past nine encounters overall and three of the last four in Florida.

Halak is 9-2-0 in 11 matchups with the Panthers, posting a 1.89 goals against average, .938 save percentage and two shutouts.