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Islanders feel sense of relief after win over Penguins

Rookie goalie Christopher Gibson called the win “important” for a team that had won just one of their previous 12 games.

Islanders players celebrate a power-play goal by Anders

Islanders players celebrate a power-play goal by Anders Lee, second from right, against the Penguins on Tuesday at Barclays Center. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

They beat the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins rather handily. Now, the Islanders face the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning.

But as they sit 10 points out of the last playoff spot with nine games to go, they can realistically do no more than end this season with some good feelings. For now, that will have to suffice.

The Islanders, last in the Metropolitan Division, continue a five-game homestand that has started 1-1-0 against the Lightning on Thursday night at Barclays Center.

“Of course, it’s important,” said goalie Christopher Gibson, likely to get his second straight start after making 36 saves in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Penguins. “We love to play hockey and everyone hates losing so it’s big for us to fight until the end here.”

Evaluating Gibson is chief among the Islanders’ priorities down the stretch. Gibson, 25, an impending unrestricted free agent, is 2-1-2 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage this season. But he’s played just nine NHL games since the Kings selected him in the second round in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Islanders are looking to win consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 15-16 when they recorded back-to-back shutouts over the Rangers and Hurricanes. They are 2-7-4 since then.

So even though beating the Penguins certainly falls into the too-little-too-late category, the sense of relief in the postgame dressing room was palpable.

“They needed it,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said. “It’s morale. It’s not where we want to be and we’re all disappointed. They played like they wanted to win. They wanted to have that feeling. So, we just want to keep going and try to follow up.”

That certainly won’t be easy against the Lightning, listed as 4-1 to win the Cup in the most recent Bovada odds.

The Lightning are just one of two teams along with the Predators to have already clinched a playoff berth.

“We’re obviously in this position where it’s tough,” said left wing Anders Lee, who extended his career high by scoring his 36th goal of the season on Tuesday. “All we can do now is take it day by day and game by game and win as many hockey games as possible. We beat a good hockey team and we move on to another good one in Tampa.”

Notes & quotes: Otto Koivula, the Isles’ fourth-round pick in 2016, agreed to a three-year, entry-level contact and will come to North America next season. The 6-3, 220-pound Finnish left wing has spent the past three seasons with Ilves Tampere of SM-liiga. This season he has nine goals and 18 assists in 53 games . . . Right wing Cal Clutterbuck, unable to play Tuesday because of soreness, practiced Wednesday.

New York Sports