The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers have been unable to find their forms of 2011-12 during this lockout-shortened season, as each is struggling to make the playoffs.
What hasn't changed is both teams' fortunes in the head-to-head series, and the Rangers will go for their 11th victory in 12 meetings as the clubs open crucial stretches Tuesday night.
The Rangers (15-13-3) have been unable to develop any consistency a season after reaching the Eastern Conference finals, falling 3-2 in a shootout to Washington on Sunday to give them a 2-4-1 mark in the last seven. New York did manage to move into the final postseason spot in the East, though coach John Tortorella was hardly encouraged.
"I'm not even thinking about the playoffs," he said. "I'm thinking about points."
The Rangers begin a three-game road trip Tuesday and follow the contest with games against fellow East playoff contenders Ottawa on Thursday and Montreal on Saturday.
"We have to focus on each game as a playoff game," said New York's Henrik Lundqvist, who has lost six of his last eight starts. "There's no other way for us to do this now. We're in a really tough spot, and we need everybody playing their best hockey going down the stretch here."
New York has kept doing that against Philadelphia this season, winning two of three matchups. The Rangers have outscored the Flyers 41-18 in taking 10 of 11 from their Atlantic Division rivals.
New York took the most recent meeting 4-2 on March 5, which started a 2-5-1 stretch for Philadelphia.
The Flyers finished with the third-most points in the East last season but have a tough road ahead just to make the postseason for the fourth straight year.
Philadelphia (13-16-2) is in 13th place, five points behind New York. The Flyers fell 2-1 in overtime at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"We obviously went there for two points, but we've got a lot of hockey left this week," said forward Brayden Schenn, who hasn't recorded a point in his last eight games. "We've got another tough test coming up Tuesday."
This contest opens a five-game homestand for the Flyers, winners of four of five at Philadelphia.
"It's going to be huge for us," said captain Claude Giroux, who scored his 10th goal Sunday. "We've got to go one game at a time but we've got to find a way to win those five games to get a spot in the playoffs."
Philadelphia may have a good chance to jump out to an early lead Tuesday, as Rangers opponents have scored the first goal in five of the last six games.
"Maybe we talk too much about it," said Lundqvist, who has posted a 1.63 goals-against average in his last 11 starts versus Philadelphia. "We focus so much on getting a good start, and when that doesn't happen maybe we over-think it. Maybe we should talk less about it and just go out and play."
The Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov has gone 1-7-0 with a 3.70 GAA in his last eight starts against New York.
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