The long-shot possibility of the New York Rangers and New York Islanders livening up an otherwise barren Big Apple sports winter with a pair of playoff berths is likely gone. But the Rangers can help make the Islanders' path to the postseason a more difficult one Thursday night when the longtime rivals meet in the opener of a home-and-home series at Madison Square Garden.
Both teams were off Wednesday after losing Tuesday, when the Rangers suffered their fourth straight defeat, 4-2 in Vegas, e Vegas Golden Knights, 4-2, and the Islanders lost 4-3 at home to Carolina to bring the Isles' six-game winning streak to an end.
The Rangers (17-18-7, 41 points), who are in the first full season of a rebuild, harbored some hopes of making a surprise playoff run following a 9-1-1 run from Oct. 30 through Nov. 21 -- a streak which culminated with a 5-0 rout to end an eight-game losing streak against the Islanders.
But the Rangers have won consecutive games just once since then and have fallen on particularly hard times lately in being outscored 22-5 during the four-game losing streak. So while a game against the Islanders always brings a little more energy, the Rangers will be far more concerned with correcting what has ailed them in a still-pointless 2019.
"Anytime you play a rival, it certainly gives it a little more juice, but we're certainly focusing on the fact that we've got to get out of this rut that we're in," first-year Rangers head coach David Quinn told the media following Tuesday's game. "I thought we took a step forward tonight -- certainly not the result we wanted, but I thought our play was geared in the right direction, and if we can build on what we did tonight, we'll have a much better chance on Thursday."
While the Islanders (23-14-4, 50 points) have surged into playoff contention, their recent play has left head coach Barry Trotz concerned. The loss Tuesday marked a second straight hiccup-filled game for the Islanders, who earned a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday despite being outshot 32-14.
"There's certain events and certain moments in games where you have to execute what is in the best interests of the group at the time and with the score and the situation," Trotz told reporters Tuesday night. "And we didn't do that today. And that's a good way to lose hockey games. You expect to do that and make the playoffs, who knows? It's going to be a tight race. That one or two points that we could have had today, we threw them away."
A pair of No. 1 goalies, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and the Islanders' Robin Lehner, are likely to oppose each other after each sat out Tuesday.
Lundqvist last played Sunday, when he took the defeat after giving up five goals on 32 shots before being pulled in the second period of a 5-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. Lehner extended his winning streak to seven decisions Saturday when he stopped 29 shots in the victory over the Blues.
Lundqvist is 30-20-7 in 60 career games against the Islanders. Lehner is 2-5-2 in nine appearances against the Rangers.
The home-and-home will conclude Saturday afternoon, when the Islanders host the Rangers at Barclays Center.
--Field Level Media