Coming off a Stadium Series sweep, and with a lineup that is as balanced as it's been all year, the Rangers, who are 13-5-1 since Dec. 22, hope to push the Islanders further out of the playoff race Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
In Wednesday night's 2-1 win over the Islanders at Yankee Stadium, the Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash line didn't register a point, but the third and fourth lines contributed with goals.
"Part of our strength in the last while here is our balance," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We have three lines with the potential to be very dependable defensively, but a threat offensively, and I like our balance on 'D' with those three pairs."
Although the Rangers kept John Tavares, Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo, a line that Vigneault called "dynamic," off the scoresheet Wednesday, it will take a strong effort to limit their firepower again.
"Since the 14th of December, that line is 1, 2, 4 in scoring," Vigneault said. "Those guys can stay on the ice for a minute to a minute-10, which is way above norm, so you have to have two pairs of 'D' and two lines ready."
That line forced turnovers Wednesday, and Okposo just missed tying the score in the waning seconds. Returning indoors, Vigneault said, with better ice, defensemen can make a crisper first pass and "we'll be a little cleaner on our breakouts."
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh said players found the two-game outdoor series "refreshing" at a time when the routine can be a grind. But the Islanders "never give up" and play well at the Garden, where they won both games this season.
With four games left before the Olympic break, the Rangers want to close with as many points as possible.
"Even though we've been getting a lot of points lately, you look at the standings, it's really tight," said Henrik Lundqvist, who will start his fourth straight game. "So we have to go all-in down the stretch."
Notes & quotes: The Olympic trade freeze begins next Friday and ends Feb. 27 and president and general manager Glen Sather continues to speak with representatives of Rangers free agents. Sather is not going to Sochi, although the 2010 Olympics was where he first saw Norway's Mats Zuccarello play. He signed him later that summer . . . Forward Derek Dorsett, out since Jan. 3 when he broke his left leg while blocking Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen's shot, is on target to return after the Olympics, Vigneault said . . . McDonagh has ties to the two Super Bowl quarterbacks. Steve Walsh, McDonagh's uncle, backed up Peyton Manning in Indianapolis in 1999 and Russell Wilson played one year at McDonagh's alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. "Hard to bet against Peyton," he said.