When the New York Islanders and New York Rangers split a pair of high-scoring games in November, it appeared both teams might stay in contention for postseason spots in the Eastern Conference.
Nearly two months later, the Islanders are ascending while the Rangers are dealing with a significant tailspin and falling way behind in the playoff race.
On Saturday afternoon, the teams will get together for the last time this season and for the last time at Brooklyn's Barclays Center when then Rangers visit the Islanders in the back end of a home-and-home set.
On Nov. 15, Anthony Beauvillier recorded a hat trick in the Islanders' 7-5 win in Brooklyn and six days later the Rangers scored three times in the first period of a 5-0 home win. After the second meeting, the Islanders were 10-8-2 while the Rangers were 12-8-2.
Since then, the Islanders (24-14-4) are 14-6-2 in their last 22 games while the Rangers (17-19-7) are 5-11-5 in their last 21 contests.
The Islanders also are 7-1 in their last eight games after Josh Bailey scored the game-winning goal on their only shot of the third period with 86 seconds left against the Rangers on Thursday.
"We're peaking at the right time and playing our best hockey," Bailey said. "You're going to have those moments when you're not at your best, but in those moments, you find good teams around the league find a way to win."
The Rangers are on a five-game losing streak and during their longest skid of the season, they are getting outscored 26-8. The skid began with lopsided losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes before close losses to the Vegas Golden Knights and Islanders.
Thursday's loss was the second time in this skid the Rangers outshot their opponent and it occurred after a 17-1 advantage in the third period. New York also allowed two power-play goals to the Islanders and have allowed eight goals in 21 chances with the man advantage during the skid.
"We've had some heartbreaking losses, but that's right up there," Rangers coach David Quinn said. "To come out the way we did in the third period and play with the pace and the energy that we did, it says an awful lot about our character. But character's not getting us wins right now."
While Bailey's game-winner was only his third goal since the mid-November meetings with the Rangers, Mathew Barzal has 11 goals since then, including eight tallies in his last seven games.
Chris Kreider leads the Rangers with 20 goals but has gone a season-high six straight games without a goal. Mika Zibanejad leads the Rangers with 35 points but since getting four assists two weeks ago in Nashville, he has one point in his last six contests.
"We can't seem to find a way to win. We find a way to lose instead," Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello said. "It's tough to swallow. I don't know what to say, it's not fun."
The Rangers also may be without Kevin Hayes. Hayes is second on the Rangers with 33 points but has missed the last four games without an upper-body injury, though he participated in the morning skate on Thursday.
Thursday's outcome also continued the Islanders dominance of the rivalry in recent seasons and they will be facing the Rangers in a place they have never lost.
Since the Islanders began playing games in Brooklyn in 2015-16, they are 13-2 in 15 meetings with the Rangers and 7-0 in Brooklyn with six wins coming in regulation. During the last 15 meetings, the Islanders have outscored the Rangers 54-37.
Henrik Lundqvist, who has been pulled twice during New York's skid, is 0-6-1 in his last seven games against the Islanders. He also is 1-11-2 in his last 14 games against the Islanders since the start of the 2014-15 season.
Robin Lehner is expected to start for the Islanders. He made 16 of his 27 saves in the third period Thursday and is on a career-high eight-game winning streak since a 3-2 loss to Vegas on Dec. 12.
"It was a big win for us, but if we want to win the next game, we have a lot of things to fix," Lehner said.
Saturday is the first of six remaining home games for the Islanders in Brooklyn. Their final game at the home of the Brooklyn Nets is Feb. 16 against the Edmonton Oilers.
--Field Level Media