The New York Rangers are playing their best hockey of 2013-14, but to extend their current winning streak to a season best, they'll have to beat a team that's nearly equaled their recent success.
The Rangers will go for their fourth straight victory Tuesday night when the New York Islanders make the short trip to Madison Square Garden.
With six wins in their last seven, the Rangers (27-21-3) have climbed into second in the Metropolitan Division while outscoring opponents 20-9 in that span. The Islanders (20-24-7) remain in last, though they've won six of eight thanks to 28 goals.
A 4-1 win Sunday over Washington started a three-game homestand on a positive note for the Rangers. Rick Nash scored twice while Derek Stepan added one to give the Rangers a 3-0 first-period lead. Nash has three goals in two games while Stepan has four points in his last two and five points in his last four against the Islanders.
"Starts are important," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "If you can jump out and start the right way and then get the momentum, then I think you set the tone for the rest of the game and you gain confidence right away."
Lundqvist's confidence is likely high right now regardless of his teammates' scoring. He's 5-1-0 since Jan. 8 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .958 save percentage after making 24 stops against the Capitals. He's been nearly as good on a 6-1-0 stretch against the Islanders. He's compiled a 1.54 GAA in those games with the only slip up being a 5-3 home defeat on Dec. 20.
Lundqvist got a game off the night before the win over the Capitals, but the Rangers didn't miss a beat, winning 4-1 at Ottawa with Cam Talbot making 29 saves. The Rangers' No. 2 has been about as hot with a 4-1-0 record, 1.37 GAA and .948 save percentage since Dec. 12.
"It was a tough back-to-back for us," Nash said. "Traveling (Saturday) and coming home to a team that is right on our heels ... it's a huge four points."
The Islanders salvaged two points in a home-and-home against Philadelphia with Monday's 4-3 home shootout win. Kyle Okposo tied it at 3-all with a third-period power-play goal, converted the winner in the shootout and assisted on John Tavares' team-best 23rd goal.
"We created chances and found a way to make it count," Tavares said. "It was meaningful as a group to come back with an effort like this after Saturday's game. Momentum is important for us."
Okposo has six points in his last five games while Thomas Vanek, who added an assist, has six points on a five-game point streak.
With 10 points separating the second-place Rangers from the eighth-place Islanders, there's added focus on division games in the Metropolitan.
"Wins within the division are huge," Okposo told the team's official website. "That second point (today) is huge for us."
The Rangers had gone 8-0-2 against the Islanders since Nov. 15, 2011, before their home loss to the Islanders last month.
Tavares has been held without a point in four straight games against the Rangers.
Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic has missed four games with a concussion and is not expected to play Tuesday.
Goaltender Kevin Poulin will make his first career appearance against the Rangers after backing up Anders Nilsson on Monday. Poulin is 1-2-0 with a 3.31 GAA in his last three starts.
These teams will meet three times over the next 11 days, including a Jan. 29 matchup at Yankee Stadium.