The Rangers' Adam Fox fights for control of the puck...

The Rangers' Adam Fox fights for control of the puck with the Islanders' Anthony Beauvillier during the second period of an NHL game April 20 at Nassau Coliseum. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

A third straight playoff berth has long seemed a foregone conclusion for the struggling Islanders.

A spot is still there for the taking, provided they start playing playoff-quality hockey. They cannot afford to get swept in their next series, two games against the rival Rangers starting Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

The teams also play Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum to conclude their eight-game, season series.

"It definitely gets a little frustrating when things aren’t clicking," Matt Martin said after the Capitals completed a three-game sweep with a 1-0 win on Tuesday night in Washington. The Islanders were shut out twice in that series and have scored one or fewer goals in five of their last seven games.

"We’ve been through a scoring slump, every team goes through them," Martin said. "We’ve been through rough patches, I think every team goes through them. We’ve just got to find a way to work ourselves out of it. We’ve overcome these things in the past and I’m confident in this group that we’ll find our way and be playing our best hockey come playoff time."

The Islanders, who were off on Wednesday, fell five points behind the East Division-leading Capitals and four points behind the second-place Penguins. The fourth-place Bruins, who have played one fewer game, trail by one point.

Two regulation wins by the fifth-place Rangers would bring them within a point of the Islanders, with the top four teams in the division advancing to the postseason.

The Islanders reached the second round in their first season under coach Barry Trotz and, last season, reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993.

High expectations accompanied this season. They can still be reached but only if the Islanders tighten their defensive play and start being more aggressive in getting pucks to the opponent’s net.

The Islanders are 2-4-1 in this stretch of scraping for any goal production. Their only laugher was a 6-1 win over the Rangers at the Coliseum on April 20.

"You’re going to trail in games, it’s the nature of the sport," Casey Cizikas said. "When you trail, it shows what kind of team you are. You keep fighting. You keep moving forward. It’s not always going to go your way.

"Right now, it’s difficult. It’s not easy for us. This is where we grow as a team. This is where we get big and, moving forward, you’re going to see a team that’s competitive. That’s hungry. This is a good test for us and we’re going into a game against the Rangers with our heads high knowing we’re a good team and, moving forward, we’re going to play our game and our game only."

The Islanders’ most recent win over the Rangers also stands as their lone regulation win in their last 10 games. They’ve managed a 4-5-1 record in that span but have fallen behind in the regulation wins tiebreaker.

"I’m a points collector," Trotz said. "The No. 1 priority is to get some points every night."

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