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Rangers, Islanders desperate for victory in rivalry matchup

NEW YORK -- Fans of the New York Islanders and New York Rangers hoping to see their favorite teams clash in the NHL playoffs are likely to be disappointed for a 24th straight spring. As a result, Thursday night will have to suffice.

The Big Apple rivals will play their first -- and possibly final -- game this season with a playoff-type atmosphere Thursday, when the Islanders host the Rangers at Barclays Center.

Both teams are coming off slump-deepening losses Tuesday that further lengthened their odds of emerging from the packed Eastern Conference wild-card race with a playoff berth. The Islanders fell to the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1 while the Rangers lost to the host Minnesota Wild, 3-2.

The Islanders and Rangers have both lost seven of their last 10 games to fall into the bottom two spots in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, though the Islanders (27-25-6) have picked up two points via overtime losses in that span while the Rangers (27-25-5) have suffered all seven losses in regulation.

Despite the extended swoons, the Islanders and Rangers entered Wednesday just three and four points, respectively, behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the race for the second wild card in the East. But both teams need to turn things around quickly in order to make their final scheduled clash of the season -- in the Islanders' home finale on April 5 -- consequential in the playoff chase.

While Thursday night's game is pivotal for the postseason hopes of both teams, it looms even larger for the Islanders, who will have two chances in as many days to make up -- or lose -- ground in the wild card race. After facing the Rangers, the Islanders travel to Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Friday.

"We're right in striking distance," Islanders head coach Doug Weight told reporters following practice Wednesday. "It doesn't feel good right now, but we have to go at it against a big rival and try to get two points and go from there."

Getting two points against the Islanders has been nearly impossible lately for the Rangers, who have lost 12 of the last 15 games against their regional rival dating back to the start of the 2014-15 campaign, including the two played earlier this season at Madison Square Garden.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday he hopes the law of averages finally swings in his team's favor Thursday.

"We haven't been real good against the Islanders in the last few games," Vigneault told reporters following practice. "I think we're due to have a real solid game."

The Islanders' Jaroslav Halak is likely to face the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist in a battle of No. 1 goalies. Both were handed a loss Tuesday, when Halak made 47 saves against the Blue Jackets and Lundqvist recorded 26 saves against the Wild.

Halak is 16-7-0 in 24 career regular season games against the Rangers. Lundqvist is 30-19-7 in 58 appearances against the Islanders.
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