Islanders, Rangers battle in meaningful game on Long Island

The Rangers and Islanders will meet in a game with serious playoff implications, as the New York clubs battle Saturday at Nassau Coliseum in the biggest contest to hit this rivalry in quite some time.

The Rangers enter Saturday tied with Winnipeg at 44 points for the last playoff seed in the East, but have two games in hand over the Jets. The Islanders, meanwhile, are two points ahead in seventh place.

This showdown on Long Island is the fourth and final scheduled meeting of the season between these Atlantic Division rivals. The Rangers are 2-0-1 against the Isles in 2013 and have won three of four and six of the last eight games in this series.

The Isles lost a 2-1 overtime decision when the teams met at the Coliseum on March 7, but the Rangers have lost three of the last five meetings on the road.

The New York teams have rarely been good at the same time over the last few decades and they haven't faced each other in the playoffs since 1994, when the Rangers swept the Isles in the opening round en route to the franchise's last Stanley Cup title. Saturday's contest could mark the start of an exciting new beginning for this old rivalry.

"What more could you ask for?," said Rangers winger Rick Nash after practice on Friday. "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 Islanders come into Saturday's battle as the hotter team, having won three straight and posting an 8-1-1 mark over their last 10 outings. The Blueshirts, meanwhile, have won two of three and are 5-1-1 to begin April after ending last month with four losses in five tilts.

The Isles matched a season high with their third straight win on Thursday, an impressive 2-1 regulation victory at Boston. Josh Bailey netted a pair of goals to back a 30-save effort from Evgeni Nabokov in the triumph at TD Garden. Mark Streit assisted on both of Bailey's tallies in the win.

"Our team is playing hard," Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. "You get rewarded when you play hard and play within the team concept. We gave up the one power play goal where we were running around, but the effort is there every night."

The Islanders are playing two straight on home ice, a stretch that will concluded the club's regular-season home slate. Capuano's team is 9-11-2 at the Coliseum and will finish its schedule on a five-game road trip. That could actually benefit the Isles, who have a solid 12-5-2 mark as the away team in 2013.

The Rangers are playing five of their last eight games on the road, but today's contest is the club's only remaining game with a team that is currently ahead of them in the East standings.

The Blueshirts recently split a home-and-home set against Toronto, losing Monday's road portion before taking a shootout on Wednesday at MSG. Mats Zuccarello scored the lone goal in the shootout to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory over the Maple Leafs.

Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh each recorded a goal and an assist in regulation to help the Rangers bounce back from a 4-3 setback to the Leafs. Henrik Lundqvist came up with 23 saves before turning back all three Toronto skaters in the deciding phase.

"I'm happy they grinded away and found a way," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of his team. "It's a good team we were playing, but I'm happy they found a way to get two points."

The Rangers, who will visit Philadelphia in their next game on Tuesday, are 7-10-2 as the guest this season compared to a 13-6-2 home record.