Rangers just trying to hang on at home

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal says the Islanders will

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal says the Islanders will try to knock their rivals "down a few pegs" in Tuesday's game at Madison Square Garden. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The Rangers are home from their week on the West Coast, which produced a 1-1 record and a sense of finality. With a dozen games to go, the Rangers are staying close to home and facing teams they've been jostling with all season long.

It starts Tuesday night with a visit to the Garden from the Islanders, who are a much-changed team from the last meeting between the two teams.

The Rangers drubbed the Islanders, 7-2, on Dec. 27. Since then, the Isles are 18-13-5 and the Rangers are 15-16-2.

The fact remains, though, that the Islanders are 11 points behind the eighth-place Rangers, so this still is a spoiler game for the visitors. And to the Rangers, it's just another important game as they try to hang on to a playoff spot.

"It doesn't really change our approach," Marc Staal said after the Rangers practiced for nearly an hour here Monday. "We'll be desperate and they're going to look to knock us down a few pegs. They're loose, they're relaxed. I know they're still hoping to stay in the race, but we can't worry about them."

The Rangers have developed a knack for working through their problems, as they did last week. Their 5-2 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim was one of their worst performances of the season, but they followed it up with a 3-2 shootout win over the hot Sharks on Saturday night.

Seven of their remaining 12 games are at home, where the Rangers are 3-6-1 in their last 10. John Tortorella said his team has not tensed up at home. "We've had a lot of the same problems on the road with not starting games well," he said. "I don't think it's an issue."

Recent history isn't a problem, either. Before the Rangers closed last season on a 7-1-1 run to get back in the playoff race, they went on a 2-5-2 skid to fall to the back of the pack.

"We did have that stumble before we made a late push," Staal said, "but we're a different type of team now. We have that experience from last season to remind us how we need to play every night."

Notes & quotes: LW Brandon Prust sat out Monday's practice with an assortment of nagging pains. Tortorella said Prust has been able to play hurt, so he is likely to play Tuesday night, which would leave Sean Avery as the healthy forward scratch for the second straight game.

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