GREENBURGH, N.Y. - There was no downplaying this game, no statements that the Islanders are like any other opponent or that it's too early in the season to be staring at the standings.
"It seems like everyone's winning, and that's what's going to make it a huge game," said Rick Nash, the Rangers' lone All-Star.
"It's going to be a big game for sure," Ryan McDonagh added.
"It's going to be a New York classic," coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Rangers enter Tuesday night's game against the Islanders at Madison Square Garden after a three-game West Coast sweep, their second this season. They've won 13 of their last 14 games, are five points behind the first-place Islanders in the Metropolitan Division with three games in hand and, after Tuesday night, will have three more games against the Islanders this season.
The Rangers and Islanders are two of the hottest teams in the NHL. That's reason enough for the fever pitch surrounding this game -- never mind the rivalry, never mind how loud the Garden is going to be Tuesday night.
"We're going to have our hands full with another big test," Nash said. "No matter what the records . . . the rivalry is still huge. I think just the point of the season we're at and how points are so tough to get these days, it's going to make it that much better."
Every active Ranger except defenseman Dan Girardi (maintenance day) was on the ice Monday for a spirited practice session. "For us coming back from a road trip, we're trying to get our legs back," McDonagh said.
"It's tough coming back off the road," Nash said. "These are the games that you worry about, when you first come back off the road. We gotta make sure we use our fans' energy to our benefit and come out with a good effort."
McDonagh ticked off the keys: The Rangers need to come out hot and fast, and they need to sustain their recent success on the power play. They lead the league in power-play percentage since Dec. 16, going 12-for-34 (35.3 percent), and they've notched a power-play goal in eight of their last 11 games. But most of all, McDonagh said, the focus has to be on defense.
"We defined ourselves strongly in the beginning of the year by giving up too many goals," he said. "This last stretch here, I think we negated a lot of scoring opportunities for the opposition. It starts with our forwards being very supportive in the 'O' zone, backchecking hard and everyone buying into that defensive mind-set."
The Rangers have outscored opponents 22-8 during their current five-game winning streak. It's a fun time to be a New York hockey fan, McDonagh said.
"It's great," he said. "If you're from a New York area, these teams go way back, so you understand the traditions, and to see it picking up, to see both teams up in the standings, even though there's still a lot of hockey to be played, it's going to make for an exciting finish to the season."