The New York Rangers impressively passed a test against some of the best teams in the Western Conference, sweeping a three-game swing through California.
An even more important matchup looms in their return home Tuesday night, as they’ll face a first-place New York Islanders team that’s having a pretty good road trip of its own.
The Rangers’ victories over Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose in four days last week gave them 13 wins in 14 games for the first time since 1973. New York (24-11-4) has outscored opponents 22-8 during a five-game winning streak.
"I think it just proves what this team is about and what we can accomplish when we play to our strengths and focus on our roles and our jobs," captain Ryan McDonagh told the team’s official website after Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Sharks. "You look at the ways we won, we won in kind of different fashions … tonight it was defensive, kind of a sloppier way to win. We’re excited about what we’ve got going here."
Despite their long hot streak, New York’s main competitors for the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division – the Islanders, Pittsburgh and Washington – have all been picking up points consistently as well.
”It was a great answering of the bell,” said newly named All-Star Rick Nash, who sealed the latest win with an empty netter to tie for the league lead with his 26th goal. ”We talked about it for the three days before we came out here that this was going to be a gritty task and I thought we played great. It’s impressive to get these three wins. At the same point, it’s just three wins.”
A victory over the division rival Islanders (28-13-1) would certainly qualify as more, especially since their win total is tied for the NHL lead. The Islanders, five points ahead of the Rangers, bounced back from losses to Edmonton and Vancouver by defeating New Jersey and Columbus on Friday and Saturday, giving them a 4-2-0 mark on this season-high seven-game road stretch.
The Islanders have won five of seven overall going into what’s perhaps these teams’ most significant meeting in years.
"I think it’s more for the media and how they play it out," coach Jack Capuano said. "We know it’s another three periods of hockey, it’s shift by shift and how we have to play, obviously it’s a big rival game, but both teams are playing well right now. Hopefully it will be a good game for us when we go (to Madison Square Garden) and have the same outcome we had last time."
That would be Oct. 14, when the Islanders stunned the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist at MSG with four consecutive goals in the third period of a 6-3 victory. Six Islanders scored as the club overcame a 43-27 shot disadvantage and two goals from Nash.
Jaroslav Halak made 40 saves in the contest – 20 in the second period – and he’s expected to be back in net after Chad Johnson started in the 5-2 victory over the Blue Jackets. Halak has won three straight and five of six against the Rangers, posting a 1.67 goals-against average in those six games.
Lundqvist is likely to start for the Rangers, and he’s gone 11-1-0 with a 1.57 GAA in his last 12 contests.
The Oct. 14 victory allowed the Islanders to avoid a third straight loss in the series.
Nash has three goals and two assists in his last four games. Kyle Okposo has recorded two goals and four assists in his past five against the Rangers.