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Three injured Islanders return to practice

Islanders winger Nino Niederreiter carries the puck against

Islanders winger Nino Niederreiter carries the puck against the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum. (Oct. 11, 2010) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders had some good news on the injury front as winger Nino Niederreiter and defensemen Andy MacDonald and Mark Eaton returned to practice Friday morning.

Coach Jack Capuano said all three could be in the lineup for Saturday night's game in Minnesota.

"Nino's cleared," Capuano said. "Both Mark and Andrew are game-time decisions right now."

Niederreiter has missed the last five games with concussion symptoms stemming from a hit he suffered against Dallas on Dec. 3. MacDonald (leg) and Eaton (knee) have been out of the lineup for the past seven and 11 games, respectively.

"I'm going on 31/2, four weeks [out of the lineup]," Eaton said. "The timing isn't 100 percent, but that's something that from past experience comes back quickly."

Said MacDonald, "I was pretty happy with how I felt [on the ice]. Right now it feels pretty good, but we got to see how I react to practice."

If Eaton and MacDonald are able to play Saturday night, it will provide assistance to the Islanders' struggling special-teams units. Both play on the penalty-killing units and MacDonald sees time on the power play.

"Those are both guys that block a lot of shots, that log a lot of minutes on our penalty kill," Capuano said. "There's no question it would help in that area for sure . . . I sense the frustration setting in on the power play and it can't happen. They're getting two or three sets of guys out there to our one unit, so we have to be able to outwork them."

The Islanders (9-14-6) slipped into last place in the Eastern Conference with Thursday night's 3-2 loss to Dallas in which the Stars scored a pair of third-period goals. The Isles have been outscored 7-2 in the third period in the past three games, all losses.

"We use all these analogies, 'need to be consistent, need to play 60 minutes,' I don't even know what that means anymore," Capuano said. "We just got to find ways to win. That's the bottom line."

Notes & quotes: No timetable has been set for the return of defenseman Steve Staios and wing Brian Rolston, who are out with concussions . . . Defenseman Calvin de Haan and goaltender Kevin Poulin were sent back to Bridgeport. Evgeni Nabokov, who has been sidelined with a groin injury, will dress against the Wild, but Capuano did not indicate whether he or Al Montoya will start in goal.

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