Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders against the New York...

Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders chased Sunday’s game from the opening puck drop, often hemmed in their zone and ceding too much time and space as they were disorganized defensively. Yet they were scrappy enough to be tied with the more dangerous Rangers, the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers, midway through the second period even though they always seemed a step behind.

Suddenly, it was OK to project ahead about a month and wonder if that long-coveted playoff series between the New York rivals finally is in the offing. Madison Square Garden was loud for a St. Patrick’s Day matinee. The postseason in April would be better.

Pffffftttt. The air seemingly has gone out of that balloon after the Rangers turned it up even more in the third period and the Islanders had no extra gear to get to in a 5-2 loss.

“The energy was good,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said of the boisterous sellout crowd of 18,006. “Probably the New York rivalry. Probably the funny hats that were being worn. And then any beverage that might go with those. But there was definitely some juice in the building.”

The Islanders lost their fourth straight (0-3-1), two-thirds of the way to negating that season-high six-game winning streak that preceded this skid, while the Rangers, playing on back-to-back days just like the visitors, have won two straight and five of six.

“It has to be better,” Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson said. “The last few games here, it’s not been enough at all. We all know where we’re at. The desperation level has to be as high as possible at this time of year and in our situation. We fought all year to get ourselves back in the picture and we can’t just let that opportunity slip here. I think it’s just gut-check time for everyone.”

The Islanders are still in the playoff chase for either third place in the Metropolitan Division or the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. But that’s mainly because neither they nor the Flyers, Red Wings, Capitals or Sabres — the other teams in the mix — are particularly good, either.

“We know what time of year it is, how important these games are,” Islanders right wing Kyle Palmieri said. “Talking is one thing. You can’t talk your way into the playoffs. I think we, realistically, just have to take a look in the mirror and get the ball rolling in the other direction.”

The Islanders and Rangers could meet in the first round if the Rangers hold on to finish first in the division and the Islanders are the correct match as a wild-card opponent. Or if the Hurricanes overtake the Rangers for first place and the Islanders overtake the Flyers for third.

The teams have not met in the playoffs since 1994, when the Rangers’ first-round sweep of the Ron Hextall-backstopped Islanders kick-started the run to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup between 1940 and now.

The Rangers have won the first two games of the four-game regular-season series with the Islanders after rallying for a 6-5 overtime victory at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 18 in their Stadium Series showcase. The Islanders led that one 4-1 in the second period and 5-3 in the third period before Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider scored six-on-four power-play goals late in the third period.

There was much less drama at the electric Garden on Sunday. Right now, the Rangers are good and the Islanders are not good enough.

Bo Horvat’s second goal tied it at 2-2 at 13:55 of the second period, but Jonny Brodzinski tipped defenseman K’Andre Miller’s blast from the left circle through goalie Ilya Sorokin’s pads for what proved to be the winner at 15:01 of the second period.

Later, in a quiet corner of the losers’ dressing room, a dejected Alexander Romanov was asked to explain why the Islanders looked so disconnected. The defensive pairs shifted throughout the game, but Romanov was on ice for four of the Rangers’ goals.

“I remember four goals I gave up tonight,” the defenseman told Newsday. “That’s embarrassing. The mistakes can’t happen again. It’s just like junior hockey.”

Romanov quickly clarified that his “junior hockey” comment was solely about his play, not his teammates.

Yet the truth is that with 15 games remaining, the Islanders are just not good enough right now.


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