For the third time in eight days, the Rangers and Islanders face off for temporary New York bragging rights.
The Rangers have taken each of the first two meetings, thrashing the Islanders 6-2 last Monday at Madison Square Garden before Chris Kreider scored the game-winner with 24.6 seconds left in the third period for a 3-2 win at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night.
The Blueshirts’ two-straight wins over their geographical rivals, though, were sandwiched between losses — one to the defending-champion Blues on Jan. 11 before a 2-1 heartbreaker to the Blue Jackets on Sunday.
They were given a dose of their own medicine at MSG against Columbus as Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the game-winner off an odd-man rush with 28 seconds remaining.
“Pretty much thought we got what we deserved when the night ended,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said. “Two give up a 3-on-2 with 28 seconds to go in inexcusable.”
Tuesday’s tilt against the Islanders will be the Rangers’ final game before the All-Star break, which provides 10 days off. It’s allowing Quinn to look forward while stressing how important a strong effort on rivalry night will be.
“We move past it,” he said. “We have one more before the break. If we get that, we have a chance to go 5-2 after that [1-3] west-coast trip.”
As for the Islanders, the break might be coming at a perfect time.
After surging out to one of the best starts in the NHL this season, going 22-7-2 in their first 31 games, the Islanders have gone 6-7-3 in their last 16. That includes a miserable stretch of five losses in their last six games where they’ve failed to hit the three-goal mark four times.
Sunday evening saw the Islanders’ offensive troubles continue, putting up just a single goal in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. It was an unconvincing turnaround after Barry Trotz’s men uncharacteristically blew a 4-1 third-period lead on Saturday to the Washington Capitals in a 6-4 regulation loss.
However, the Carolina outing did provide a return to the Islanders’ usual defensive form after allowing 17 goals in their previous four games.
“It was a real good effort,” Trotz told MSG Network. “I would take this game style of game night-in and night-out. That was a playoff-style game.”
Like the Rangers, the Islanders will get a lengthy break following Tuesday night’s visit to Madison Square Garden. Needless to say, it’s a big game for the Islanders to get back on track and accrue some good feelings in the locker room to build on when they return in 11 days.
But Trotz revealed that desperation mode isn’t too far away for his club from here on out.
“With every game now, the margin for error has shrunk,” Trotz said. “Every game is big for us. We just have to play our game and it’s going to be a dogfight until the end of the year.”