ISLANDERS (21-27-8) at RANGERS (29-23-3)
TV: NHLN-US, MSG, MSG PLUS 2
Last 10: N.Y. Islanders 4-5-1; N.Y. Rangers 7-3-0
Season series: This is the fifth and final game between these longtime rivals, who have split the previous four meetings. The Rangers won 3-2 at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 29 before the Islanders took a pair of 5-3 decisions at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers won 2-1 on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.
Big story: With their third meeting in 10 days, these Metropolitan Division rivals have become very well acquainted. They split the first two games of that stretch, both big games in a division in which second and seventh place were separated by six points entering games on Thursday.
Islanders: A 7-1-0 run that began in late December nudged the last-place Islanders back into the playoff conversation. But just as they started gaining some momentum, the Islanders hit a 3-5-1 tailspin that includes their 2-1 loss at Yankee Stadium.
With four games left before the Olympic break, the Islanders can't afford a lot of losses.
"We're playing well enough to win, but we've got to find a way to win, that is the bottom line," coach Jack Capuano said. "Because we played quite a bit of hockey now, and we've got a week left here before the Olympic break."
If there was one positive from the loss in the Bronx, it was the play of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who stopped 32 shots in his first start in more than three weeks. The 38-year-old returned from a lower-body injury earlier this week.
"He made a couple of big saves when he was called upon," Capuano said. "So I felt good after the game and that was a positive sign for us."
Rangers: A 7-1-1 run was undone by two straight home losses, including a 5-3 loss to the Islanders. But the Rangers got back on track by winning both games played at Yankee Stadium; they beat the New Jersey Devils 7-3 on Sunday before edging the Islander.
"I think our group realized we need the points and these are tough opponents and tough division games," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "It's going to be tight the whole way in the East, especially in our division."
The Rangers' run has been keyed by the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is 7-2-0 in his past nine starts with a 1.56 goals-against average. But the real spark has come from the team's ability to roll four forward lines, providing the kind of balanced attack coach Alain Vigneault has been seeking all season. That balance was on display Wednesday as Daniel Carcillo scored the game-winning goal against the Islanders 4:36 into the third on a rush involving all three members of the Rangers' fourth line.
"The wins against a divisional rival, with the way the standings are, are most important," said Dominic Moore, another member of that fourth line. "That's what we feel best about."
Who's hot: Kyle Okposo's six-game point streak came to an end at Yankee Stadium but the Islanders forward still has 14 points in his past 10 games. Forward Brock Nelson scored against the Rangers and has two goals in his past four games. … Rangers forwards Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Moore all have three points in their past two games.
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