The rivalry between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders has lost some of its luster in recent years. That may be about to change.
With the surging teams holding down the last two Eastern Conference playoff spots, the Rangers and Islanders close out their season series Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
The Isles (21-16-4) have been one of the surprises of the league over the past three weeks, going 8-1-1 to move into seventh place. The club, seeking its first playoff appearance since 2006-07, has given up 16 goals during that stretch.
The Islanders won their third in a row Thursday, 2-1 at Boston behind Josh Bailey's two goals and Evgeni Nabokov's 30 saves.
"We just approach every period," coach Jack Capuano said. "Every game is a Game 7-type shift for us. We just have to continue to work. ... We're not looking ahead to anything."
If Nabokov continues to play the way he has, Capuano's team won't have to hope. The 12-year veteran has gone 7-1-1 with a 1.43 goals-against average during the 10-game surge, moving him into a tie for the NHL lead with 20 wins.
"The guys were doing their jobs," Nabokov told the team's official website after Thursday's game. "The battle level was unbelievable. Guys are sacrificing the body and playing well. It always takes 20 guys to win a hockey game."
The eighth-place Rangers (20-16-4) came into the season saddled with much higher expectations than their area counterparts. They've endured an up-and-down year but have also turned it on of late, going 4-1-1 in their last six.
Like the Islanders, the Rangers also boast a hot goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, who's 7-3-2 with a 1.79 GAA in his last 12 starts. He stopped 23 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory over Toronto on Wednesday.
Now the clubs gear up for one of their most significant meetings since the Rangers swept the Islanders en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 1994. Though the storied rivalry hasn't seen any playoff meetings since then, the matchups have rarely lacked for intensity.
"What more could you ask for?" Rangers forward Rick Nash said. "Both teams are desperate for points. It's going to be a battle. It's fun to play in games that mean a lot, not only for the points, but for the rivalry, as well. It's going to be a fun night."
The Rangers lead the season series 2-0-1, taking the latest matchup 2-1 in overtime on the road March 7. Lundqvist made 28 saves to best Nabokov, who had 35, and Nash had a goal and the first assist on Marian Gaborik's OT tally.
Lundqvist, who seems likely to make his seventh straight start, has won five in a row against the Islanders with a 1.38 GAA. That's helped his team go 6-0-2 in the last eight matchups, and 2-0-1 in the past three at Nassau Coliseum.
"It'll be a great atmosphere, for sure," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "It always is there. The fans seem to be right on top of you, and it can get loud there. And it's a big game for both teams. I'm looking forward to it."
Isles leading scorer John Tavares, who has six goals and three assists in the past 10 contests, had a three-game goal streak against the Rangers snapped in the last meeting. Bailey has four goals and three assists in his last six games.
Rangers center Derek Stepan has recorded four goals and five assists during a six-game point streak.