NEW YORK -- After the New York Rangers eked out a 2-0 victory against the New York Islanders on Friday night to sweep a home-and-home series with their rivals, coach John Tortorella was asked if he looks at the standings.
After a moment of pause where it seemed like he thought about dodging the question or even lying, Tortorella gave an honest answer.
"At times, yeah," Tortorella said with a smile, perhaps thinking about how the Rangers now sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 33 points, just five back of the East-leading Washington Capitals.
"I look at not so much the standings but what the West did to the East (Thursday night). I think we got a lot of help with Western Conference teams beating the East. I have a good idea of where we're at. With what we've gone through so far this year and how the team's coming along, I like where we're at right now.
"I'm not exactly sure as far as the points, but I know we're climbing. These were two games we knew we're going to be hard-fought, and I thought we took a step in the right direction in beating this club twice."
The Rangers earned their fourth victory in five games on the strength of a second-period power-play goal by defenseman Marc Staal and 17 saves from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Brian Boyle scored into an empty net with 3 seconds left to seal it.
Lundqvist probably didn't require a shower after his fourth shutout of the season, but he certainly wasn't complaining about the light workload.
"As long as you're ahead on the scoreboard, you feel confident," Lundqvist said. "If they score two early and you don't see the puck for 10 minutes, that's tough sometimes. I got to feel the puck a couple times during the game, made the saves. I stayed confident."
It wasn't a pretty performance by any stretch of the imagination. The Islanders clogged the neutral zone and looked to counterattack, slowing the action to a crawl at times. It was the sort of situation that would've resulted in the Rangers losing their patience last season, but they've been a changed team so far in 2010-11.
"A lot of teams in the League are playing that style where they clog it and try to counter on you quickly," said forward Ryan Callahan, who assisted on Boyle's goal. "They're a good team at it. I thought we stayed patient tonight. We didn't get away from it too much and I thought it paid off in the end."
The first period was a testament to defensive hockey, which was to be expected after the Rangers beat the Islanders 6-5 on Thursday in a game that was devoid of tight checking. The Islanders didn't register their first shot until there was 5:02 left in the first period. The Rangers held a 6-3 edge in shots after the first 20 minutes.
Early in the second period, Islanders forward Jon Sim took his second goaltender interference penalty of the game, bumping into Lundqvist as Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko gave him a nudge. On the ensuing power play, Staal came through with his fourth goal of the season.
Staal stepped into a slap shot from just inside the blue line and ripped the puck over the catching glove of Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who made 19 saves in a valiant effort. It was nearly impossible for Roloson to track the long shot with Rangers forward Alex Frolov setting a perfect screen in front of the net.
The Islanders were on the ropes for most of the second period, but came out with jump in the third. Defenseman Jack Hillen nearly tied the game when his blast from the point tipped off the Rangers' Dan Girardi and beat a screened Lundqvist. But the shot rang off the crossbar and into the corner.
After suffering their 15th loss in 16 games (1-13-3), the frustration is clearly mounting for the Islanders.
"I think overall as a team it's frustrating," Roloson said when asked if the loss was personally frustrating. "We're playing well. In the second period, a 10-minute stretch there, we just stopped playing -- well, we didn't stop playing, but we weren't making smart decisions with the puck. We got trapped out there, it didn't cost us. But at the same time it might've cost us a goal at the other end if we're playing smart."
Roloson hadn't played for two weeks, yet he looked anything but rusty.
"He always gives us a good effort," center John Tavares said of Roloson. "I told him after the game that he gave us a great opportunity, we can't ask for more from him than what he gave us. As a group, the effort was there again."
The Islanders went 0-for-2 on the power play and are now empty on their last 32 chances with the man advantage. On a night when the Rangers scored the deciding goal on the power play, the Isles' struggles on special teams were paramount.
"They always are important," Tavares said of special teams. "Their goal was on the power play and we have to find a way to get one through too. These are games when you learn how to win, and those are big parts to the game."
While the Isles search for consistency, the Rangers have the sixth-most points in the League. They improved to 7-0-0 in the second half of back-to-back games and are looking nothing like the team that fell short of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They will look to keep that momentum going Sunday afternoon at MSG against the Ottawa Senators.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo