GREENBURGH, N,Y. -- There will be no secrets between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders on Friday night at Madison Square Garden, the third meeting between the two bitter division rivals in a 12-day span.
Granted, the conditions will be different from Wednesday's Stadium Series game in the Bronx -- a 2-1 Rangers win outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures -- but this will be the same Islanders team.
Only now, the Isles are reeling after four straight losses, with the grim possibility of a very long off-season looking more likely by the day. Squandering an opportunity to make up some critical ground in the standings Wednesday, the Islanders trail the Rangers by 11 points in the Metropolitan Division standings, seven points out of the last Wildcard playoff spot.
"They expect more out of themselves than what they did the last five or six years," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of an improved Islanders squad. "They have a good team and they know that. They're fighting for a playoff spot so the desperation might be a little bit higher now. That combination along with their skill makes them a dangerous team."
Winners in five of their last seven games, the Rangers are making a nice push toward the Olympic break, banking points before the two-week-plus layoff. They are bracing for a desperate Islanders team that is trying to prove that last spring's playoff appearance is not an anomaly.
"You understand what their strengths are," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "Their top line and their creativity, their other three lines are hard fore-checking lines."
Though his team had success in containing the Isles' top trio Wednesday night -- rookie Brock Nelson was the team's lone goal-scorer -- coach Alain Vigneault said the line is difficult to game-plan against, purely on stamina alone.
"What is challenging about their first line is, I mean, those guys can stay on the ice from a minute, to a minute-ten, which is way above the norm," Vigneault said. "You have to have, almost, two pairs on defense ready and two lines ready to go up against that group."
And though the Rangers have done a good job picking up points to this point, there is still a logjam of teams in the Eastern Conference fighting to remain in the playoff picture.
"There's nothing to save," Lundqvist said. "We have to go all in down the stretch here."