October 13, 2014

Battered and bruised, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders have overcome key personnel losses to make the playoffs.

That doesn't mean they'll relax yet, with their final matchup of the regular season being a crucial one.

The Islanders can take a big step toward relegating the Rangers to a wild card by completing their first-ever sweep of the season series at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Despite finding out beforehand that captain Ryan McDonagh will miss the final three games of the regular season and is uncertain for the playoffs with an upper-body injury, the Rangers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Tampa Bay 3-2 at home Tuesday. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 19 of 21 shots in a brutal first period for the Rangers, who turned the tide after killing off Tanner Glass' five-minute major late in the first.

Derek Stepan scored twice and Chris Kreider got the winner early in the third as the Rangers (45-26-9) won their second straight, a night after clinching their sixth consecutive playoff berth.

The Rangers and Islanders can still catch Pittsburgh for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and home-ice advantage in the first round, though the Penguins have a magic number of two points to secure that spot. The bigger battle is likely for third, with the Rangers leading the Islanders by two points with the Isles holding a game in hand.

"The last few games are really big for us because we'd like to have home ice in the (first round of the) playoffs, that's a pretty big advantage," Kreider, who has five goals and three assists in six games, told the team's official website.

Stepan has recorded six goals in his last seven and 14 points in eight.

Earning the third spot will probably require the Rangers to win Thursday, but that means avoiding some dubious history against their bitter rivals. The Islanders held the Rangers to one goal in each of the first two matchups and took the last meeting 6-4 at MSG on March 6.

The Islanders (44-26-9) again overcame their rash of injuries to beat Washington 4-3 in overtime Tuesday and secure a postseason spot, also overcoming a 2-0 hole and a 3-1 deficit in the third.

They've won five of six despite the absence of No. 1 goaltender Jaroslav Halak, top defenseman Travis Hamonic and a handful of other key contributors due to injury.

''Just guys stepping up, just an attitude,'' said defenseman Thomas Hickey, who came back from a skate-cut scare to score in OT. ''It's not one or two guys, everyone just sort of pulling on the same strings.''

Thirty Islanders players, including four goalies, have dressed for a game this season.

'''I think we might play a little bit more simpler when we have some guys out," forward Kyle Okposo said. "If we can get our full lineup in and get everybody on the same page and playing the way that we need to, we're going to be a pretty good hockey team.''

John Tavares had a goal and two assists Tuesday, giving him five and six in his last eight games.

Though the Rangers are 26-9-4 at home, that might not mean much Thursday. The Islanders have won their last two on the road and dominated at MSG lately, winning six of seven there while averaging 4.3 goals.

"Obviously it's always intense, a lot of fun those games, and this time of the year it's going to be no different," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "The place is going to be rocking and it's going to be a good playoff atmosphere-type test for us at the end of the season. It'll be fun."

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