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Rangers start long homestand by hosting Isles

by John Kreiser
ISLANDERS (28-31-9) at RANGERS (42-18-7)


LAST 10: Islanders 3-6-1; Rangers 4-4-2

Season Series: It's the last of six meetings this season between the New York rivals. The Rangers have won three of the first five, including both games at Madison Square Garden.

Big Story: After a tough trip that saw them lose three games in four days -- and watch their lead in the Eastern Conference race reduced to four points -- the Rangers are back at the Garden to start a seven-game homestand against the Islanders, who will have to bounce back from another dispiriting loss on Saturday night.

Team Scope:

Islanders: The Isles were less than two minutes away from shutting out New Jersey for the second time in seven days when the roof fell in. David Clarkson scored with 1:39 remaining to tie the game and, after a needless offensive-zone penalty by PA Parenteau, Marek Zidlicky fired a slapper through a screen 14 seconds later to hand the Islanders a shattering 2-1 loss before a sellout crowd at the Nassau Coliseum.

"We felt great for 90 percent of the game," captain Mark Streit said. "Then within a couple minutes we threw the game away. When you get punished like that, it hurts."

Rangers: The Rangers entered March looking like they would run away with the Atlantic Division title and the top spot in the Eastern Conference. But they come home for two weeks in their worst slump of the season -- a 4-3 loss in Chicago on Friday was their third straight defeat, the first time they've dropped three in a row all season.

The Rangers, one of the NHL's best defensive teams all season, allowed eight goals in the third period of the three losses and couldn't hold a 2-1 lead on Friday.

"We had the lead with a little over eight minutes left," captain Ryan Callahan said. "We've got to find a way to keep it, the way it's going right now, earlier in the year we've been able to close those out. They're getting the bounces right now ... It's getting away from us. Especially in the playoffs, you get a lead in third period, you've got to hold onto it."

Who's Hot: Ex-Ranger PA Parenteau has seven goals and 15 points in 11 games against his former team since signing with the Islanders. … Marian Gaborik feasted on the Isles even before he came to the Rangers, but he's been dynamite against them in three seasons with New York. Gaborik has 18 goals and 11 assists in his past 20 games against the Rangers and is 7-2-9 in the Isles' last six trips to MSG.

Injury Report: The Islanders were without forwards Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin on Saturday due to illness. Backup goaltender Al Montoya is still sidelined with an upper-body injury. Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto missed Friday's game with a hip ailment, and forward Brandon Dubinsky has sat out the last two games with a sinus problem.

Stat Pack: The Rangers' power play has dropped to 29th in the NHL at 13.8 percent, but a visit from the Isles may give it a boost. The Islanders have dropped to 21st in the League on the penalty kill at 81.4 percent and gave up two to the Rangers in a 4-3 shootout win on Long Island 16 days ago.

Puck Drop: The seven-game homestand, with games every other day, matches the longest in Rangers history -- they haven't played seven in a row at home since 2001-02. It could be a good chance for the Blueshirts to get back on track; they are 22-7-2 at MSG this season and have won six in a row against the Islanders in Manhattan while outscoring them 27-7.

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