The first game of a home-and-home series between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders turned into a classic that was decided by a shootout.
After earning the extra point, the Rangers look to improve their playoff positioning even more against their area rival when the teams meet Thursday on Long Island.
Despite a brilliant 56-save performance from the Islanders' Rick DiPietro, the Rangers got a goal from Matt Cullen in the second round of the shootout Monday at Madison Square Garden to win 2-1. The victory snapped the Rangers' five-game losing streak in the series, which matched their worst stretch since the rivalry began in 1972.
"Huge points for us," Cullen said. "Nothing we can sit on because we play them in a couple of days."
The Rangers (32-27-7) finished 3-1-2 on their season-high six-game homestand. The last three games went to shootouts, with the Rangers winning the last two. That put them at 71 points, two out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and five behind the Islanders, who sit in seventh.
"We just have to win enough," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We've had our eye on a certain number for weeks."
DiPietro's save total Monday was a team record, but wasn't enough to get the Islanders (33-23-10) the extra point. Despite the loss, the Islanders have earned points in seven consecutive games and 18 of their last 20.
"He was the best player on the ice," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said of DiPietro. "He's the reason we got one point.
"We know we can play a lot better. We'll lick our wounds and get ready for the rematch."
The last three meetings between the teams will be on Long Island, where the Islanders have won seven of their past 10 games (7-1-2). The Isles beat the Rangers 2-0 on Nov. 26 at Nassau Coliseum, when DiPietro made 28 saves to record one of his five shutouts this season.
He's started the last 15 games, a career high, and expects to start the remaining regular season games for the Islanders, who are chasing a playoff berth after missing out in 2005-06. With a victory Thursday, the team would match last season's total of 78 points.
"It's my job to make as many saves as I can. I was able to do that for the most part," said DiPietro, who has just a 3.48 goals-against average in 19 games against the Rangers.
The Rangers will be without forward Marcel Hossa, who sprained the MCL in his left knee during Monday's victory. Hossa, who has a team-high eight goals since the All-Star break, could miss a month with the injury.
The Rangers are already playing without Brendan Shanahan, who sustained a concussion Feb. 17 and is at least a week away from returning.
To get past DiPietro again, the Rangers can borrow from Monday's strategy.
"We wanted to shoot the most pucks we could at the net," Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr said. "Hopefully we are going to score some ugly goals. It didn't happen but maybe next game. He has to be tired after 50 shots."
Jagr has had more success against the Islanders than any other team, with 55 goals and 131 points in 80 games.