anic, desperation and chaos haven't seeped into the New York Islanders' lineup just yet, although their concern is barely concealed.

The Islanders have lost two consecutive games to the New York Rangers, bringing the best-of-seven Patrick Division final to a 2-2 tie. The series resumes Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum, with a sixth game Friday at Madison Square Garden.

"Oh, are we supposed to win four straight every time we play?" Coach Al Arbour said, with a forced smile, at the suggestion the Islanders are skating downhill. "I don't think we have a license to do that. We know we're in for a battle, and that we'll have to be at the top of our game."

Arbour cited his club's difficulty with finishing plays and getting "first passes out that are hard and away. We have to revert to that."

In both games in New York City, the Islanders' offense hardly made its presence known. A flurry of four goals in the final period Sunday, a single goal in the third period the next night, were inadequate.

"It's tougher getting the shots to go in," said goalie Rollie Melanson. "I watched the tape of the game when I got home last night, and the goals are not too easy to get. (Rangers goalie) Eddie Mio has been on top of everything."

"We'd still like it to be over by Friday," said defenseman Dave Langevin, whose injured right knee has kept him out of action, along with Clark Gillies and, most recently, Bryan Trottier. Although the Islanders try to downplay the absence of those three starters, the team obviously missed them.

"No doubt, those type of guys are certainly a big factor," said Arbour. "But it takes a lot of people to make this work and you have to get guys to rise to the occasion and take over."

Trottier, who suffered a slight ligament tear in his left knee Thursday, is likely to return for Wednesday's game, and not a moment too soon. His longtime linemate Mike Bossy, usually a force in playoff competition, has been repeatedly bottled up and body checked. Playing with new linemates Wayne Merrick and Anders Kallur, Bossy has collected only five goals in seven playoff games, three coming in one game against Washington.

"Not having Bryan alongside is a factor, but it's not everything," Bossy said. "I haven't been as effective as I would like to be."

Arbour will put the pair together in an attempt to improve that situation.

"I don't know how much I will be able to do," Trottier said after practicing today. The last man off the ice, he lugged a bucket of practice pucks into the dressing room and stood his stick near his locker. "I haven't talked to Al, or (trainer) Ron (Waske) or the doctor yet, and they won't decide until just before game time. Another day's rest will help it, too."

Trottier, who is reticent off ice, said he couldn't describe how he felt. "I'm not encouraged, I'm not discouraged, I'm not anything," he said when asked about his leg's reaction to skating. "I wasn't happy about sitting out, but I'm a professional and I can't afford to get discouraged and all those other words that set in."

Bob Nystrom thinks Trottier "will be a factor, but we can't just say, 'Oh, Trots is back, we'll be fine.'

"With those other guys (Gillies and Langevin) out, no one brought it up the first two games and now, all of a sudden, that's the reason we're losing?" he said. "We've still got a lot of horses here that can pull the load.

"We've got to rely on ourselves. I don't know how Trots feels, if he'll be skating a full shift, a power play, or what. We've all got to keep up the same amount of pull."