GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The game came early in a December not to remember for the Rangers, a New York-New York meeting played for the first time at the Islanders’ new Barclays Center home instead of at Nassau Coliseum.
“I think the Coliseum was a little louder because of just the structure of the building,” Henrik Lundqvist said after the Rangers practiced Wednesday at the MSG Training Center.
But their goalie indicated the atmosphere was still as good as always. The Islanders emerged with a 2-1 win after Kyle Okposo beat Lundqvist for the lone goal in a shootout.
And now comes the next installment of the raging rivalry, Thursday night, again on Brooklyn ice. Both teams own 51 points, good for second in the Metro, the Rangers at 23-14-5, the Islanders at 23-15-5. The Rangers hope the Islanders are going to see a team that may be starting to find its way, now on a 4-2-1 run.
“Finally, I can see some positive signs offensively and defensively, probably more defensively,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “That’s what we were striving for. Tomorrow it’s going to be tested. That’s a real strong team we’re playing against.”
Vigneault called the Islanders “one of the best four-line teams in the league.”
He will be thankful for the supportive people wearing blue jerseys mixed among the Isles’ fans in the stands.
“The cult of the New York Rangers, anywhere we go, it’s phenomenal,” Vigneault said. “I come from two great organizations, Montreal and Vancouver, where we had an unreal following. But it’s nothing compared to the New York Rangers fans . . . It’s something that you have to really experience to understand how powerful it is.”
Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak has won his last seven matchups with Lundqvist, four as a member of the Isles.
“I think he’s been playing solid hockey games against us,” Lundqvist said. “ . . . We just have to match their intensity and desperation in these games.”
The Rangers will carry a growing sense of confidence into this game.
“You can tell we’re making a lot more plays that we’re accustomed to making and that we need to make in order to give ourselves a chance,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “I like the way that everybody is contributing throughout the lineup in different roles.”
Notes & quotes: Dan Girardi practiced despite the lacerated right thumb he suffered in Monday’s win over Boston, but Vig neault said the defenseman was “less than 50-50” to play. Dylan McIlrath would replace Girardi . . . Center Derick Brassard didn’t practice. “Maintenance,” Vigneault said. He added that unless something changes for the worse with Brassard, Oscar Lindberg is probably “going to be the odd man out again,” just like Monday.