New York Islanders (33-26-12) 78 Pts @ New York Rangers (45-24-4) 94 Pts
When: March 22nd, 2017
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Time: 8PM EDT
Radio: 660AM, 101.9FM – WFAN, 88.7FM – WRHU (Chris King, Greg Picker)
We’ve said it before, we will say it again. This is a must-win game for the Isles. They are three points out of the playoffs with 11 games to play. The Rangers aren’t going anywhere other than the first Wild Card spot. They have two less games played than Columbus, and are six points behind them. It’s not happening. They are set to travel to either Ottawa or Montreal for their first round playoff matchup.
This game means WAY more to the Islanders. With 660 regulations minutes of hockey to go in the season. every single one of those minutes counts for a team that fell like a rock to start the season, climbed its way back into contention, only to see themselves falter as of late. So the season of ups and downs, or downs, ups, and downs perhaps we should say, needs to take another turn this evening if the Islanders want to remain players in the crowded Wild Card race.
The Isles have a brutal schedule this week, and it starts with tonight’s tilt against their cross-town rivals. After tonight, they play three games in four nights against the Penguins, Bruins, and Predators. To end next week, the Islanders play the Flyers and Devils. Both teams will likely be unofficially, if not officially eliminated by then.
First things first though, if the Islanders want the games next week to matter, they have to do better than 1-3-1, which is what they have been in their last five. The Islanders are 6-1-0 in their last seven games against the Rangers. Their only loss coming at Madison Square Garden on Opening Night of the season. The Isles won the last two meetings, both at Barclays Center.
If practice is any indication, Coach Doug Weight plans on shaking things up a little bit. For the first time since pre-season, Andrew Ladd will be Left Wing on the John Tavares line with Josh Bailey. Anders Lee moves to Left Wing on the second line with Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang. Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, and Jason Chimera make up the third line, with Nikolay Kulemin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck assembling the checking line.
The Isles sound like a group who, after a couple of needed days rest, are ready to rock. “We believe in one another and we’re doing everything we can to get in. There’s certainly a lot up for grabs and we want to take it,” Captain John Tavares said this morning.
While this rivalry has become routine to most players, Doug Weight has the unique perspective of seeing it from both sides. He was drafted with the 34th pick in 1990 by the New York Rangers. Weight played 118 regular season games for the Blueshirts, while adding eight playoff games. Coach Weight still remembers his first game against the Islanders, as a Ranger.
“I remember I called my father the next day and he was like ‘that was crazy.’ I’m like ‘you’re telling me. I don’t know man, this is a crazy league.’ There was Tie Domi and Ken Baumgartner, guys screaming at me and I said, ‘Dad, there were more fights in the stands than on the ice.'”
While the rivalry currently has a little less violence, with both teams on the rise again it will pick back up in no time. For some guys, like Josh Ho-Sang, this is a first.
“I’ve watched the games. The last few times the Isles have played them, the Isles have come out guns a blazing and it’s a really good rivalry.” Ho-Sang is excited for his first opportunity to play at MSG. “I’ve never been to Madison Square Garden, I’ve heard about it in Jay-Z songs, so that’s the closest I’ve been to here.”
Rivalry or not, all the players know this is a huge game.
“Every game is being approached as the biggest game for us,” Travis Hamonic said on Monday. “We know what’s at stake and there are a handful of teams really battling for that last spot. You can’t overlook your own opportunities when you’re in a race this tight. You can’t rely on any other team doing you favors.”
Toronto will be playing Columbus, in Columbus at 7 PM.