When the New York Islanders visited Madison Square Garden less than two weeks ago, they opened a home-and-home series by handing a reeling Rangers team what was then their fifth straight loss.
But the Rangers will have a different look as they host their local rivals on Saturday night and try to carry the momentum from a four-game winning streak over the Christmas break.
Rangers coach John Tortorella called his team’s effort early in a 2-1 home loss to the Islanders on Dec. 16 “unacceptable,” with the defeat capping a bleak two-month stretch during which the Rangers were 7-15-3.
But they responded by winning 5-2 on Long Island the next night, beginning a 3-0 road tip, and went on to win their first home game since Nov. 23 by a 4-1 score over Florida on Wednesday.
“The last four games we have been more physical, more aggressive. The puck is starting to bounce our way a little bit,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist(notes), who has stopped 136 of 141 shots during the streak for a 1.25 goals-against average.
“I think I am playing really well, but the guys playing in front are playing really, really well,” Lundqvist added. “They are making really good decisions.”
Wednesday’s win going into the holiday was especially refreshing after the Rangers (18-16-3) had gone 1-7-1 in their previous nine games at Madison Square Garden.
While Lundqvist made 33 saves, New York was aided against the Panthers by two goals from Vinny Prospal and the NHL-leading 26th goal from Marian Gaborik(notes) - his first shorthanded tally of the season.
“Coming home, it kind of validates it,” Rangers captain Chris Drury(notes) said. “If you lose this one, it doesn’t really do too much for you from the road trip. The theme (Tuesday and Wednesday) was making sure we kind of finished it off here.”
The Rangers’ next three home games are against teams among the bottom four in the Eastern Conference - including the Islanders, who have lost seven of their last 10.
“We kept it simple,” Tavares said. “Our last few games we’ve been sloppy. We stayed out of the penalty box and we had a back-pressure that took the pressure off the defensemen.”
One area the Islanders would love to improve is their power play, which was 0 for 4 against the Maple Leafs and is 1 for 27 (3.7 percent) in the last six games.
The Islanders (14-17-7) have totaled 10 goals in that 2-4-0 stretch, with Tavares held without a point in the first five games before his goal Wednesday.
“We’ve got to start getting (the power play) going and start producing more,” Tavares said. “I thought it was better (Wednesday) but we need to keep improving.”
Dwayne Roloson(notes) has been in net for all three of the Islanders’ games against the Rangers this season, going 2-1-0 with a 2.33 GAA, although he allowed five goals on 22 shots in the Dec. 17 loss.
The Islanders are 8-3-1 in their last 12 visits to MSG.