Rangers give Islanders even more motivation

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders battles for the puck against Artem Anisimov #42 of the New York Rangers. (Dec. 26, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Their noses figuratively bloodied in consecutive losses, the Islanders on Friday night will eagerly wade back into their long-odds fight for a playoff spot with a neighborhood scuffle against the Rangers.

Perhaps the timing is good for the Islanders. "Absolutely," captain Mark Streit said. "We played two bad games, two losses, and we want to bounce back. And there's nothing better than playing the Rangers at home. It's going to be a great atmosphere, and they're having a great season so far, so it's a big challenge for us. But we're up to it and we're looking forward to it."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano isn't convinced that the opponent is the primary motivating factor after back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Buffalo earlier in the week.

"At this point," Capuano said, "with the amount of games we have left and the points available and where we sit in the standings [five teams removed from a playoff spot], you shouldn't have to say a lot" to light a competitive fire.

At 25-27-8, the Islanders continue to be faced with the proverbial must-win situation. "It's been that way since, really, the All-Star break," John Tavares said. "We knew we had to win more than we lose to give ourselves an opportunity."

But, certainly, playing the Rangers "always means fun games, with a lot of emotion," Tavares said. And to P.A. Parenteau, briefly a Ranger two years ago before finding his NHL legs with the Islanders, "Yeh, it's my favorite team to play against, for sure.

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"I don't think it's personal," Parenteau said. "I have a lot of respect for that team. They're doing really well this year, they're well-coached. But it brings the best out of everybody, and especially myself. And it's going to be a battle."

Best of all, it will bring a rare capacity crowd to Nassau Coliseum. "It makes a big difference when the barn is full," Parenteau said. "It gets you going, no matter what. That's what you play for."

Notes & quotes: Goalie Evgeni Nabokov (flu) and defenseman Travis Hamonic (broken nose) returned to full team practice Thursday, Hamonic wearing a cage to protect his surgically repaired nose. Nabokov is available to play Friday night but Capuano wasn't certain of Hamonic's status. Forward Josh Bailey, who left Tuesday's game with back spasms, did not practice and was sent back to the doctor for re-evaluation.

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