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Islanders revel in Stadium Series opportunity

Long Island's squad ready for frigid conditions against Manhattan rival
01/29/2014 12:39 AM ET
By Seth Rothman

Wednesday's contest marks the first outdoor game in franchise history for the Islanders.(AP)
BRONX, N.Y. - The line between winning and losing in the National Hockey League is thin.

Sometimes, it's as thin as a telephone line extending from Uniondale to Toronto.

The New York Islanders found that out the hard way Saturday afternoon, when they lost in a shootout after an apparent overtime game-winner by Thomas Vanek was controversially overturned by the NHL Situation Room in Toronto.

It was one of three straight losses the Isles (21-26-8) have endured, all at home. Their last win was Jan. 21 at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers (28-23-3), who they'll face Wednesday evening at Yankee Stadium in the league's Stadium Series showcase.

"We played some good teams, some big, strong teams," said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano of his team's skid. "But the amount of hockey that we've played, we've played a lot of hockey; we haven't had a lot of days off. I think this game and this atmosphere could spark us a little bit."

"We just need to bear down and need to be more defensively sound and capitalize on our opportunities when we can," said forward Matt Martin. "Once we step onto the ice [Wednesday], we understand what's at stake."

It's a chance to showcase a team that, despite playing in a suburb of New York City, is considered small-market. Tuesday's practice day was their opportunity to soak it all in. But when the sold-out crowd files into the frigid Bronx on Wednesday, the smiles on the face of each Islander will be replaced with a game-day scowl.

"You get into this building, you're in the Bronx, you're in Yankee Stadium, a great venue, and it's pretty amazing what the NHL has done with these events," Capuano said. "The toughest thing for me about this game is the lineup because we have a close-knit group, obviously, on our hockey club, and not everybody's going to be able to participate. So as a coaching staff, that, to me, is the toughest part."

"Once the puck drops it's another game," said forward Kyle Okposo. "It's two points you [have] to get."

The temperature Wednesday night -- which could fall into the teens -- won't matter for the Islanders. They have 27 games remaining, and sit in last place in the Metropolitan Division -- seven points out of a playoff spot.

"We need every point we can get," Okposo said. "This is no different. We dropped our last three games, so that obviously doesn't help. But this is a big game for us."

"I think our guys know the importance, obviously, of the stretch we have before the Olympic break and how big of a game it is [Wednesday] against the Rangers, a divisional opponent," Capuano said. "[The rink is] still 200-to-85. We still have to play the game. So I'm not too concerned about any distractions with our hockey club. Just making sure we go about our preparation tomorrow like we do in any other game."

But, of course, it's not just any other game. It's an outdoor game -- the first in franchise history. For players like Martin, It's a chance to live out childhood fantasies on the grandest of stages. It's a chance to revel in an opportunity of a lifetime.

 "It's amazing," Martin said of Yankee Stadium. "It really is everything and more than we thought it would be. It's not every day you get to do something like this. Even now, when I was out there for the first five or ten minutes skating around, looking around at the big Yankee Stadium sign, seeing all the seats, it's pretty special and definitely something we'll never forget."

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