Rangers, Islanders face off tonight, start stretch of three games between rivals in 11 days

Kyle Okposo defends against Derick Brassard in the Kyle Okposo defends against Derick Brassard in the second period of a game at Nassau Coliseum. (Oct. 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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January has been pretty swell for the Rangers and Islanders, who meet at Madison Square Garden tonight, opening a stretch of three games in 11 days between the division rivals.

The Rangers are 7-2-1 in the first month of 2014. With a 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers on Monday, the Islanders are 7-3.

The difference is in the standings. The Islanders are 20-24-7 (47 points), 10 points behind the Rangers (27-21-3) in the Metropolitan Division.

But over the years, you throw out the records when the puck drops at either the Garden or Nassau Coliseum. Or when the puck drops at Yankee Stadium on the night of Jan. 29, when the forecast is for temperatures in the teens with a chance of snow.

In the most recent meeting between these two clubs, on Dec. 20 at the Garden, the Islanders beat the Rangers, 5-3. The visitors took a two-goal lead in the first period on Cal Clutterbuck's penalty shot against Henrik Lundqvist and Michael Grabner's shorthanded breakaway. Grabner also scored an empty-netter with 50.9 seconds left to send the Rangers to a 1-4-2 mark on their homestand.

"We kept making some simple mistakes, and I was not there to clean it up," Lundqvist said after the game.

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Rick Nash said, "When you're getting outworked, the bounces seem to go against you."

The only other matchup between the clubs this season was a 3-2 Rangers win at the Coliseum on Oct. 29. Nash, now ablaze with seven goals in eight games, and Ryan Callahan, who was out with a broken thumb, did not dress. Both are back.

Lundqvist is expected to face Kevin Poulin, who has never played against the Rangers. On Oct. 29, Rangers backup goalie Cam Talbot faced Evgeni Nabokov, who remains sidelined.

On that night, Chris Kreider, with the first power-play goal of his career, and Ryan McDonagh scored with the man advantage and Benoit Pouliot had the game-winner. Clutterbuck and Travis Hamonic scored for the Islanders, who had a 2-1 lead.

After slipping far below .500 at the Garden, the Rangers have turned it around at home, going 6-1-1 in the last eight games. Lundqvist has looked very sharp in his last six starts: 5-1-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .958 save percentage.

Notes & quotes: The Rangers were 3-0-1 against the Islanders last season, including 1-0-1 at home. They have earned at least a point in 10 of their last 11 games at MSG (8-1-2) . . . The Rangers lead the series 120-110-97, including 69-38-11-5 at home . . . Two days after the game in the Bronx, the Islanders visit the Garden to wrap up the regular-season series.

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