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Islanders head to Garden to face rival Rangers

by Brian Compton

ISLANDERS (20-24-7) at RANGERS (27-21-3)


Last 10: Islanders 7-3-0; Rangers 7-2-1

Season series: This is the third of five games between the New York Islanders and New York Rangers. They've split the first two, with the Islanders winning the most-recent game, a 5-3 victory at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20. The teams will play again Jan. 29 at Yankee Stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series.

Big story: One of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL resumes at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, with each team playing well of late. The Islanders split a home-and-home series with the Philadelphia Flyers and pulled within five points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference; the Rangers have gone 11-3-1 in their past 15 games to move into second place in the Metropolitan Division.

"Guys are playing with confidence and belief in how we need to play," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said after his team rallied for a 4-3 shootout win against the Flyers on Monday.

Team Scope:

Islanders: After blowing a 2-0 lead en route to a 6-4 loss in Philadelphia on Saturday, the Islanders found themselves trailing 3-1 heading into the third period in the finale of their home-and-home series with the Flyers. But New York outshot Philadelphia 17-3 in the third and erased the deficit on goals from Brock Nelson and Kyle Okposo to send the game past regulation. Okposo scored in the fourth round of the shootout and Anders Nilsson stopped Sean Couturier to give the Islanders a much-needed second point.

"[Wins] within the division is huge," Okposo said. "Obviously, we let one slip away the last game in Philly there, so we wanted to come out and bear down and get two points. We gave them a point, but that second point was huge for us.

"We've got the Rangers tomorrow. We've got a couple of big games against them coming up. We've got [the Pittsburgh Penguins] coming in here [Thursday], so it doesn't get any easier. We have to be ready to play.

Rangers: The Rangers have won three in a row and six of their past seven games behind the work of arguably their two most important players -- goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and forward Rick Nash.

Nash scored twice in a 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, with the first goal coming on his first shift to help set the tone. He has seven goals in the past eight games.

Lundqvist, meanwhile, has allowed two or fewer goals in six straight starts. He's lowered his goals-against average to 2.54 and raised his save percentage to .915.

"I think there's an expectation from Rick himself and our group that he's going to find a way to contribute and get on that score sheet, just like there's an expectation from our group that Hank's going to stop the puck and give us a chance to win," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Those players are elite players that are difference-makers that need to find a way to make a difference in a positive way, and that's what those guys are doing for us right now."

Illness will keep Lundqvist out of the game Tuesday, however. Cam Talbot gets the start.

Who's hot: Okposo has recorded a point in 15 of the past 19 games. He has 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) in 50 games this season. Islanders captain John Tavares has two goals during a three-game point streak. Thomas Vanek extended his point streak to five games Monday. He's recorded a point in 15 of the past 16 games. … Rangers center Brad Richards has recorded a point in eight of the past nine games. He has four goals and six assists over that span.

Injury report: The Islanders will be without goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (lower body) and defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Travis Hamonic (upper body). … Rangers forward Derek Dorsett is out with a broken tibia.

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