Rangers aim to rebound on homestand vs. Islanders

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(SportsNetwork.com) - A couple of struggling Metropolitan Division clubs will battle for a rare win on Friday, as the New York Rangers continue their difficult homestand by hosting the rival New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers had a road-heavy schedule in the early portion of 2013-14, so the club's current nine-game homestand was supposed to be a chance to rack up some points in front of the MSG faithful. Instead, the Blueshirts have gone 1-3-2 over the first seven games of the residency, dropping them to 6-9-2 on home ice this season.

Alain Vigneault's club lost the first four games of the homestand before finally breaking through with Sunday's 4-3 shootout win against Calgary. However, the Rangers were back on the schneid their last time out, losing a 4-3 shootout decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite suffering another loss, the Rangers did well to even earn a point in Wednesday's outing. Pittsburgh led 3-1 after scoring two quick goals early in the third period, but New York would send the game to overtime thanks to goals by Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard over the last seven-plus minutes of regulation. Brassard's power-play tally tied the game at 3-3 with 1:46 left.

After a scoreless overtime period, one that saw the Rangers waste a power-play opportunity, the Penguins were able to earn the win in the shootout, as Brandon Sutter netted the lone goal of the decisive phase.

Carl Hagelin joined Zuccarello and Brassard as the goal-scorers for the Rangers, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 29 shots in the tough-luck defeat.

Lundqvist was shaken up early in OT when Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz collided with the netminder just outside his crease. Lundqvist was able to stay in the game, but his team couldn't take advantage of the power play that came with the goaltender interference.

"I don't think (Kunitz) meant to hit me," said the veteran Swedish backstop. "At first after the hit it was hard to focus, then my neck began to get sore but after a minute or so I knew I could keep playing."

Lundqvist could get an eighth straight start in net tonight and is 27-11-5 with a stellar 2.08 goals against average in 44 career games against the Islanders.

The Isles, meanwhile, enter Friday's matchup in free-fall mode, having lost three straight, 13 of 14 and 18 of their last 21 games. It's unlikely they'll catch a break tonight, as the Rangers have won three in a row, five of six and eight of the last 10 overall meetings in this series and the Islanders have dropped 10 of 13 at MSG.

Although they've set the bar fairly low all season long, the Isles have played better over the last week or so, going 1-1-2 in the last four trips to the ice. The club is on a three-game losing streak at the moment, but the Isles were at least able to get a point from each of their two most recent setbacks.

After losing 1-0 in overtime to Montreal on Saturday, the Isles dropped a 3-2 shootout decision against Tampa Bay to complete their two-game homestand.

The Isles should be kicking themselves for not getting a win in Tuesday's game against the Lightning. They held a 2-0 lead after a goal with 9:39 left in the third period, only to allow Valtteri Filppula to score twice in the last three minutes of regulation. Filppula notched the equalizer with four ticks left in the third.

Evgeni Nabokov finished with 34 saves for the Islanders, but faltered late as his team fell to 1-9-4 over their last 14 outings. Filppula and Nikita Kucherov both beat Nabokov in the shootout.

John Tavares scored the lone goal of the shootout for the Islanders, while Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen each potted regulation goals in the loss.

"When you play the right way for 57 minutes and you don't get the result, it's frustrating, especially the way that happened tonight," said Okposo.

The Isles have lost 11 of their last 12 road games and are 4-13-0 as the guest this season. They will close the month of December by playing four of six on the road.