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Rangers start final third of homestand vs. Islanders

by Tal Pinchevsky

ISLANDERS (9-19-7) at RANGERS (16-17-2)


Last 10: N.Y. Islanders 1-5-4; N.Y. Rangers 3-5-2

Season series: This is the second of five games between these two rivals. The New York Rangers topped the New York Islanders 3-2 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 29 with Benoit Pouliot scoring the game-winner with 6:14 remaining in regulation.

Big story: In a Metropolitan Division where no team has managed to keep pace with the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers have been able to tread water despite going 1-3-2 on their franchise-record nine-game homestand. The Islanders, on the other hand, are in danger of falling from contention after going 3-14-4 since Nov. 2.

Team Scope:

Islanders: After opening November with two wins in 24 hours, the Islanders sat in second place in their division and sported a plus-5 goal differential. They've struggled mightily since then, falling to last place and fielding a minus-41 goal differential in 21 games. But there have been signs of hope in the past 10 days as the Islanders have collected points in three of four games.

They haven't won in regulation since Oct. 25, but the Islanders competed Saturday to earn a point in a 1-0 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens before sustaining a frustrating home loss Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Trailing 2-0, Tampa Bay cut the Islanders lead when Valtteri Filppula scored with 2:53 remaining in regulation. He then tied things up with four seconds left before scoring in the shootout to lead the Lightning to a 3-2 win. The loss marked the Islanders' ninth blown third-period lead of the season.

"When you play the right way for 57 minutes and you don't get the result, it's frustrating," forward Kyle Okposo said. "Especially the way that happened tonight."

Rangers: They've won once during their marathon homestand, but the Rangers have shown some fight this week. They followed up a 4-3 shootout victory against the Calgary Flames on Sunday with a 4-3 shootout loss Wednesday to the Penguins. In both games, they came back from a two-goal deficit, including a 3-1 hole against Pittsburgh with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation.

Mats Zuccarello cut the Pittsburgh lead with 7:17 remaining in the third before Derick Brassard tied the game on the power play with 1:46 left. On the game-tying goal, Brassard got a friendly bounce after Pouliot's shot missed the net before beating Marc-Andre Fleury from a tough angle. Brandon Sutter scored the shootout's only goal in the fifth round to give Pittsburgh the win, although the Rangers saw some positives in their performance against the first-place Penguins.

"[It's a] big point. We played a pretty good game, I think," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was momentarily shaken up after a collision with Chris Kunitz in overtime but stayed in the game. "The way we play as a group, I thought we did a lot of good things."

Who's hot: Okposo has three goals and four points in his past four games. Islanders captain John Tavares has 25 points in his past 23 games. … Carl Hagelin has a goal in each of his past two games and Mats Zuccarello has three points in his past three games for the Rangers.

Injury report: Islanders forward Casey Cizikas (jaw) missed the game Tuesday but skated Wednesday and could return. Defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Radek Martinek (back) remain on injured reserve. … The Rangers are without defenseman Marc Staal (concussion) and forward Ryan Callahan (sprained knee).

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