If the New York Rangers needed any incentive to put away an opponent in regulation, facing off against their most bitter rival for the first time this season should be more than enough.
Looking to regain sole possession of the Atlantic Division lead, the Rangers (13-9-4) meet the New York Islanders on Sunday at Madison Square Garden in the first of eight meetings this season.
The Rangers—tied with New Jersey for the division lead with 30 points— went 5-2-1 against the Islanders last season, and are 13-3 with two ties against them since Jan. 21, 2003.
Heading into this contest, though, the Rangers have dropped three in a row, with all those defeats coming after regulation. Following overtime losses at home last Sunday against Buffalo and Tuesday to Atlanta, the Rangers fell 4-3 in a shootout to the Sabres on Friday.
“A loss still feels like a loss, and it wasn’t a happy dressing room, but I liked a lot of things about our game tonight,” said Brendan Shanahan, who’s failed to score a goal in his last four games but still leads the team with 17 on the season.
The Rangers’ Martin Straka continued his recent torrid scoring pace. He scored his 15th goal 7:20 into the third period to tie the score at 2, and assisted on Michael Nylander’s tally just 46 seconds later.
Straka, a former Islander, has seven goals and 12 points in his last six games. Coach Tom Renney said Straka should play in this contest despite tweaking a hamstring that kept him off the ice for Friday’s overtime and shootout.
Jaromir Jagr assisted on both third-period goals, and will try to continue his amazing dominance of the Isles. Last season, the future Hall of Famer had six goals and 12 assists in eight meetings, including two four-point games at Nassau Coliseum.
Jagr has played 75 career regular-season games versus the Isles and scored 51 goals, including 16 power-play tallies and 11 game-winners, and 73 assists— all career highs against any team.
Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro started all eight games against the Rangers last season, going 3-5-0 with a 3.59 goals-against average, but was 2-2-0 with a 2.21 GAA at Madison Square Garden.
Kozlov added an assist for his best single-game effort since a five-point night in an 8-2 win over Tampa Bay on Nov. 25, 2005, when he was with New Jersey.
The win also was the Isles’ first in three games after losing leading scorer Alexei Yashin to a knee injury that could sideline him for up to a month.
“It shows that we are still able to score,” said Miroslav Satan, who scored his 300th career goal one game after notching his 600th point. “I hope we can repeat it again and again. It’s definitely a good feeling that you can score five goals.”
Satan had five goals last season against the Rangers, four coming on the road.
Jason Blake extended his points streak to eight games Saturday with an assist on Sillinger’s second goal that capped the scoring. Blake has five goals and six assists during his run.