As the old saying goes, when these two teams play, you can throw the records out. Rivalry games between teams such as the Rangers and Islanders have been known to energize a struggling team and spark a turnaround, or, conversely, to knock a high-flying group back down to earth.
In the case of the Rangers, who have lost four straight entering this home-and-home against their archrival, they aren’t looking to the sight of the “NY’’ on their opponent's crest hoping it can get them going. No, the Rangers actually left Las Vegas feeling pretty good about themselves despite their 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights that closed out a winless three-game road trip. The improvement in the Rangers' game against last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up had them thinking that they are poised to turn their fortunes around.
“We’re amped,’’ Chris Kreider said after the Rangers battled and scored a pair of goals in the third period against the streaking Golden Knights. “We don’t need [the rivalry]. We could be playing a matinee against a West Coast team. It wouldn’t matter. We’re going to be up for that game, regardless."
The teams are trending in opposite ways. The Islanders, despite their 4-3 home loss to Carolina on Tuesday, are one of the league’s hottest teams – “They’re the best team in the area right now,’’ Henrik Lundqvist said – while the Rangers have been outscored 22-5 in their last four games (all regulation losses).
But after a penalty-filled, 6-1 loss to Colorado in the opener of the road trip, and a no-show 5-0 loss to lowly Arizona in the next game, the Rangers were much more lively against Vegas, one of the Western Conference’s elite teams. They played with speed and physicality and attitude, and the feeling in their locker room afterward was hopeful – even confident – that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
"No one felt good in here, but tonight’s game was definitely a step up from the previous two,’’ defenseman Brady Skjei said after the Vegas game. “I thought we played with the speed that we have, and we made some plays.’’
Coach David Quinn acknowledged the extra intensity rivalry games can bring out in a team, but he was less interested in what the Islanders could do for his team than what it appeared his players started to do for themselves Tuesday night.
“You know, anytime you play a rival, it certainly gives it a little more juice, but we’re focusing on the fact that we’ve got to get out of this rut that we’re in,’’ Quinn said. “I thought we took a step forward tonight – certainly not the result we wanted, but I thought our play was geared in the right direction, and if we can build on what we did tonight, we’ll have a much better chance on Thursday.’’
“Our game’s going like this,’’ Kreider said, flattening his hand like a knife, and driving it diagonally upwards. “The worst thing we can do is take a step back against the Islanders.’’