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New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers

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GAME: New York Islanders (27-21-8-2) at New York Rangers (21-27-7-4).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

If there has been one aspect of yet another disappointing season the New York Rangers can point to with pride, it has been their thorough domination of the New York Islanders.

The struggling Rangers look to continue their mastery over their New York rivals and make up some much-needed ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race as they host the Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers have won all four meetings with the Islanders this season, including a 3-2 victory on Long Island on Jan. 10 and a 4-1 home win three days later. After the latter of those victories, the Rangers moved one point in front of the Islanders for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

Things have gone steadily downhill since for the Rangers, who are trying desperately to avoid a seventh straight non-playoff season.

The Rangers have gone 3-11-2 since their Jan. 13 win over the Islanders, including their current three-game slide. On Monday, the Rangers gave the Ottawa Senators a tough battle for the better part of two periods before yielding three unanswered goals in the third for a 4-1 loss.

The Rangers are 11 points behind Montreal for the East's last postseason spot and 13 points back of the surging Islanders, making this fifth meeting between the teams all the more important for New York's "Original Six" franchise.

Embattled coach and general manager Glen Sather shot down speculation that he may be giving up his position on the bench to move back upstairs full-time to concentrate on making some deals before the March 9 trade deadline.

"I'm coaching the rest of the year," Sather said. "Who knows what's going to happen? But I don't expect to make any changes at that position at this time, no.

"I'm not ready to throw in the towel. The worst thing for us to do right now would be to concede, to give up, to quit. We're not going to quit."

The Rangers are unbeaten in their last eight meetings with the Islanders (6-0-2) dating to last season.

The Islanders took advantage of the league's worst team Wednesday, holding on for a 4-3 win over the hapless Pittsburgh Penguins, losers of 16 straight.

Kenny Jonsson provided the eventual game-winner on the power play at 6:27 of the third period as the Islanders moved into sole possession of seventh place in the East.

The Islanders are unbeaten in their last five games (2-0-3), but are anxious to end their skid against the Rangers.

"I think it's time for us to win against them," Jonsson said.

STANDINGS: Islanders - 66 points, 3rd place, 12 PB, Atlantic Division. Rangers - 53 points, 4th place, 25 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Islanders - Trent Hunter, 22 goals and 42 points; Adrian Aucoin, 27 assists; Eric Cairns, 130 PIM. Rangers - Jaromir Jagr, 20 goals, 35 assists and 55 points; Chris Simon, 189 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 17): Islanders - Power play: 16.7 percent (38 for 227), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.3 percent (221 for 259), tied for 7th. Rangers - Power play: 14.4 percent (33 for 229), 24th. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (231 for 286), 27th.

GOALTENDERS: Islanders - Rick DiPietro (14-10-4, 2 SO, 2.18 GAA); Garth Snow (14-13-4, 1, 2.72). Rangers - Mike Dunham (13-20-6, 1, 2.83); Jussi Markkanen (8-10-1, 2, 2.58).

SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 4-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 13; Rangers, 4-1. At New York, Tom Poti scored and added an assist and fellow defenseman Brian Leetch set up two goals as the Rangers posted their fourth straight win over the Islanders.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Islanders - 8-13-6-2 on the road; Rangers - 11-13-3-4 at home.


Associated Press
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