(SportsNetwork.com) - With four games in hand over the rival New York Islanders, the New York Rangers have a little room for error in their quest to catch the Metropolitan Division leaders.
The margin could become a bit slimmer on Tuesday night when the Rangers visit the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum for the final time in the regular season.
The Rangers and Islanders have emerged as serious contenders in the Eastern Conference this season. The Isles lead the division with 90 points, three more than the Rangers with 14 games left to play. The Blueshirts, though, have 18 games left on their schedule and this is the final one this season between the New York rivals.
In fact, Tuesday night will mark the 126th regular-season clash between these clubs at Nassau Coliseum. It also will be the last as the Islanders are scheduled to move to Brooklyn next season.
The Isles have 65 wins and eight ties in their all-time rivalry at Nassau Coliseum with the Rangers, who played their first game in this arena on Oct. 21, 1972.
After picking up a pair of wins at Madison Square Garden to begin this five- game season series, the Islanders notched a home win over the Rangers on Jan. 27 and outscored their rivals 13-4 over those three games.
The Blueshirts finally got the better of the Islanders with a wild 6-5 win in the most recent encounter on Feb. 16 on Long Island.
"It's a big game," Isles head coach Jack Capuano told his team's website of tonight's meeting. "They are well rested and we just have to find a way to make sure we have energy. It's good to play at home in front of our crowd. It's a long road trip for us. It's the first game back. Just get our rest and get prepared to play a really good team right now."
The Isles are wrapping up a set of back-to-back games tonight, having wrapped a four-game road trip with Monday's 4-3 overtime victory versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. John Tavares sparked a rally before scoring the game-winner with 22 seconds left in overtime.
With time winding down, Tavares skated through the neutral zone then went down the right wing, cut to the front while beating two defenders and snapped the puck past Toronto's Jonathan Bernier in for the victory.
"I just tried to gain some speed," said Tavares. "I saw the defenseman backed off and gave me a lane to the net. I was able to hesitate enough to open up Bernier and it trickled in."
Tavares also assisted on Tyler Kennedy's third-period tally just 1:32 into the frame, sparking a three-goal period for the Islanders that helped erase a 2-0 deficit. That allowed the Isles to go 2-0-2 on their road trip.
The 24-year-old Tavares has nine goals and 12 assists over his past 12 games, vaulting him into the NHL lead for points this season with 72. He has three goals and an assist in four games versus the Rangers this season.
New York did lose defenseman Nick Leddy to an undisclosed injury last night and his status for this game is unknown.
With backup Michal Neuvirth having stopped 22 shots in last night's win, Jaroslav Halak is in line to start versus the Rangers. He has started each of the previous four meetings this season, going 3-1-0 with a 2.51 goals against average, .935 save percentage and one shutout.
The Rangers play the third contest of a five-game road trip tonight and are 10-1-3 in their past 14 games overall. That has them a point up on the idle Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the division with two games in hand.
The Blueshirts continued their trip on Sunday with a 1-0 overtime victory against the Chicago Blackhawks, with Derick Brassard scoring the game's only goal 32 seconds into the bonus frame.
Brassard wasted little time ending the game in the extra session as he took a Mats Zuccarello cross-ice pass and beat Corey Crawford on the blocker side with a slap shot from the left circle.
"There's no way there I could score on the glove side, so I just tried to go short side and it worked," Brassard said.
Cam Talbot made 29 saves to earn his fifth shutout of the season and on Monday was named the NHL's Third Star of the week. He went 2-0-1 in three games with a 0.99 GAA and .965 save percentage.
The Rangers are scheduled to visit the Washington Capitals on Wednesday and Talbot figures to start this game. He is 2-1-0 lifetime versus the Islanders with a 3.32 GAA and .904 save percentage in four meetings (3 starts). He yielded five goals on 43 shots to win the 6-5 decision last month, the only time he has faced the Isles this season.
Rangers forward Rick Nash, second in the NHL with 38 goals, has notched five goals and three assists in 12 games versus the Isles since joining the Rangers.