First place in the Metropolitan Division looks like a pipe dream for the New York Rangers and New York Islanders at the moment.
That shouldn't lessen the intensity of the archrivals fighting it out for second place.
The teams meet Thursday night for the second time this season, again in Brooklyn, with matching point totals as they jockey for position in the playoff race.
The Rangers (23-14-5) have shown signs of coming out of their prolonged funk of late, going 2-0-1 in the last three after a 5-11-2 stretch. Rebounding from a heartbreaking overtime loss to division-leading Washington, they rallied for a 2-1 home victory over Boston on Monday.
Jesper Fast scored on a deflection in front with 1:42 to play after Derick Brassard had tied the game in the first minute of the third period, and Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves.
''The way we came back today, we played a really solid game and turned it up in the third, which is really a good sign that we have that determination and won't give up,'' Lundqvist said.
It was the first time the Rangers overcame a deficit at the start of the third period and won in regulation. They were 0-11-2 coming in.
''The last four or five games we've started playing like ourselves,'' said Brassard, who has two goals and an assist in his last three games. ''Even if we are down in the score, we see those signs that we can come back. It shows a lot of character. The difference in the third period tonight was our will, and we found a way to win the game.''
They weren't able to do so in their first game at Barclays Center on Dec. 2, coming out on the wrong end of an intense and tightly played 2-1 shootout loss. Viktor Stalberg answered John Tavares' power-play goal in the second period, but Kyle Okposo's goal in the first round was the only one of the tiebreaker.
The Islanders (23-15-5) pulled even with the Rangers going into this matchup with a 5-2 home victory over Columbus on Tuesday, avoiding a third straight loss. Brock Nelson had three goals and an assist and Thomas Greiss made 18 saves for the Islanders, 5-7-0 in their last 12.
The Islanders are 19-2-0 when they score at least three goals, including shootouts, and 16-3-2 when they score first.
''We came out flying and put them on their heels,'' said center Ryan Strome, who ended a 16-game goal drought. ''It's always a hard game against Columbus. We have to come out against the Rangers the same way.''
The Islanders have been inconsistent at home of late, alternating losses and wins in the last six games. They've totaled 20 goals in their past four victories at Barclays while scoring one in each of the last three defeats.
''We'll enjoy this one tonight. I'm sure everyone will be ready for the Rangers,'' forward Cal Clutterbuck said.
Catching the Capitals, who are a staggering 16 points up on both teams, looks unlikely at this point. Though still barely halfway through the season, the Rangers and Islanders appear set up for a season-long battle for the second and third automatic playoff spots and home-ice advantage for a potential first-round matchup.
"The Islanders just came off a big win. They're one of the best four-line teams in the league, and they're a big challenge for us and we're gonna have to be ready for them," coach Alain Vigneault said.
Lundqvist, who will start Thursday, has lost four straight starts against the Islanders with a 3.73 goals-against average.
Jaroslav Halak, expected back in goal for the Islanders, has given up two or fewer goals in four of his last five matchups with the Rangers.