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For Isles, another crucial game against the Rangers

The Islanders' Blake Comeau, right, shoves with the

The Islanders' Blake Comeau, right, shoves with the Rangers Michal Rozsival during last week's tussel at Nassau Coliseum. (December 17, 2009) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

Already this month, the Islanders have faced the Rangers at a critical juncture of their season. Now they’ll do it again.

Shortly after returning from a merciless stretch early in December — a punishing schedule in which they played 14 of 17 games on the road — the Islanders delivered two of their most consistent, well-rounded efforts in splitting back-to-back games against the Rangers.

On Saturday night, they’ll play the Rangers for the third time in 11 days and look to make up some of the ground they’ve lost during a homestand that has been far from friendly.

In the midst of a schedule consisting of eight of 10 games at home this month (and the two on the road a short bus ride away at Madison Square Garden), the Islanders have not been able to stockpile points.

In the last seven games — one of them at the Garden — the Islanders have won only three times and suffered their most embarrassing defeat of the season, a 7-1 drubbing by the Panthers on Dec. 14 at the Coliseum.

Heading into Saturday’s game at the Garden, the Islanders are coming off a 3-1 win over Toronto, a victory that snapped a three-game losing skid.

“It’s always big to get off that losing streak and get a win,” goaltender Dwayne Roloson said. “That’s just part of the game — you want to win every night.”

Before continuing their rivalry, both teams had the benefit of the traditional Christmas break. Now each will have to shake off the big holiday dinners and get cracking in the jam-packed Eastern Conference, in which only five points separate the teams in eighth and 14th place.

The Rangers are on a four-game winning streak that includes a Dec. 17 win over the Islanders that was accomplished with a stellar 35-save performance by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

The Islanders, 12th in the Eastern Conference with 35 points and 2-1 this season against the Rangers, are four points removed from the Rangers’ eighth spot in the standings.

“The two points are always going to be important,” coach Scott Gordon told reporters after Wednesday night’s win over Toronto. “Realistically, we’ve got to aim for that eighth [playoff] spot and there are a lot of teams bunched in that area. Whether it’s the Rangers or any one else in that area, those are going to be the ones that are most important.”

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