The New York Islanders are in the midst of a heated playoff race. If they can continue their dominance over the New York Rangers, they may be able to make their postseason hopes much more secure.
The Islanders, 4-0-0 against the Rangers this season, travel to Madison Square Garden for the opener of a home-and-home series Monday night.
The Islanders (33-23-9) are hoping a few more wins against their archrivals can help to propel them into the postseason for the first time since 2003-04. They are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, with three teams trailing them by four points or fewer.
The Rangers (31-27-7), meanwhile, are looking to sneak back into that crowded playoff picture as they try to end a five-game losing streak to the Islanders. It's the Rangers' longest skid in the series since dropping five straight from Jan. 23-Oct. 23, 1982.
The Rangers, who face the Isles four more times, are only four points out of eighth place but have three teams in front of them.
In their four meetings this season, the Islanders have outscored the Rangers 18-10. On Monday, the Isles can guarantee their first winning season against the Rangers since 2001-02, when they went 3-2-0.
The Islanders have won five of six overall, and matched a season high with three power-play goals in a 6-2 win over Washington on Saturday.
Miroslav Satan gave New York a 5-0 lead early in the third period with his second goal of the game, and Ryan Smyth, acquired from Edmonton at the trade deadline, capped off the scoring by picking up his first goal with his new team with three minutes remaining. Smyth was Edmonton's leading scorer with 31 goals and 22 assists.
The Islanders have pulled into playoff contention by recording a point in 17 of their last 19 games.
"Nobody can do it but who's in this locker room," Smyth said. "We need to play with confidence and conviction."
The Rangers have also been hot, earning points in nine of their last 12 contests.
That run has coincided with the arrival of rugged forward Sean Avery, who joined the team from Los Angeles in a February trade. Avery has two goals and six assists as a Ranger to help lead New York to a 6-3-3 record.
Avery scored the tying goal with less than three minutes remaining Saturday and the Rangers overcame a two-goal third-period deficit to beat St. Louis 3-2 in a shootout. Michael Nylander, Jaromir Jagr and Marcel Hossa scored shootout goals for New York.
"I think (Avery) has brought his own to the team, I think he's helped others reveal theirs and he's helped all of us establish a bit more depth," coach Tom Renney told the club's official Web site.
Saturday's win improved the Rangers to 3-1-2 in their last six home games. The Islanders, though, are 7-2-3 in their last 12 on the road, where they've won two straight.
The Isles have already beaten the Rangers three times on the road in 2006-07, the first season in franchise history in which they have recorded three wins at MSG.
After this home-and-home set, which concludes Thursday, the Rangers visit the Islanders on March 25 and April 3.