The New York Rangers are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. A win in their final visit of the season to their biggest rival's building would make the postseason trip that much sweeter.
Looking to avoid their third consecutive road loss but with a third straight playoff appearance all but assured, the Rangers open a home-and-home series with the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
With three games remaining, the Rangers (41-27-11) are also trying to secure home-ice advantage in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, as they're pushing New Jersey for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. On Friday, they'll meet the Islanders at Madison Square Garden before closing the season Sunday on the road against the Devils - their likely opponent in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Rangers managed just four goals while losing the first three games of the season series against the Islanders, but have since scored 11 times in going 2-0-1 over the last three.
Scott Gomez has helped key that success with two goals and two assists in those three contests, including the winning score in a 4-2 victory Nov. 29. Though he's registered only three of his team-leading 54 assists over his last seven games, Gomez remains the Rangers' scoring leader with 70 points, four more than Jaromir Jagr.
Gomez and Jagr assisted on Chris Drury's goal 1:46 into overtime Monday, lifting the Rangers to a 2-1 win over Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh.
|This past Monday at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York Rangers center Chris Drury notched the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Rangers a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)
"We showed we could beat a team that a lot of people think can go all the way," Henrik Lundqvist told the Rangers' official Web site after making 21 saves for his 36th victory. "That's just a huge win for us."
Lundqvist needs one victory to match his career high set last season. He's 5-3-1 with a 1.65 goals-against average in nine career starts on Long Island.
The Rangers have not dropped three straight away from MSG since a season high-tying six-game road slide (0-4-2) from Jan. 2-29. On Thursday, they may be without forward Brendan Shanahan, who missed the third period against the Penguins with what coach Tom Renney called a "lower body muscle-type of injury."
Shanahan is second on the team with 23 goals, including 11 on the power play, one behind Drury in both categories.
The Rangers also need one win in their final two games to equal last season's total.
The Isles, who aren't headed to the playoffs, dropped their third in a row overall and second straight after regulation Tuesday, 2-1 in overtime to New Jersey. On Saturday, they fell 4-3 in a shootout to Philadelphia.
Joey MacDonald, now the backup to Wade Dubielewicz after All-Star Rick DiPietro was lost for the season with a hip injury last month, stopped a career-best 45 shots against the Devils.
"I thought MacDonald played a very solid game," coach Ted Nolan told the Islanders' official Web site. "With all of the inexperience, we give our goaltenders good work. Dubielewicz gave us a good performance the other day and MacDonald played equally well tonight."
Josef Vasicek scored for the Islanders (34-37-9), whose 190 goals rank them last in the Eastern Conference.