NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 04: The New York Islanders and the New York Rangers salute players following a first period fight at the Barclays Center on October 4, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Let the Battle Begin: Islanders and Rangers Duel at MSG

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)

New York Islanders v New York Rangers

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 BaileyAnders 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.

On defense, the Isles will go with Thomas Hickey in for Dennis Seidenberg.

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.”

Ho-Sang Excited For His First Islanders-Rangers Game

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.”

Thomas Greiss will once again start in net, and he will face Antti Raanta.

Toronto will be playing Columbus, in Columbus at 7 PM.

Eric Bordin

About Eric Bordin

Eric is currently a resident of Jupiter, FL. He is a Leasing Consultant at an apartment in community in beautiful Abacoa, FL. He grew up in Old Bethpage, NY and has been a die-hard Islanders fan his whole life. My other sports loves are the Yankees, Cowboys & Lakers. Eric is a Senior Writer and Editor for Islanders insight, and runs the Facebook page as well. You will find many articles on the site written by him. He has several years experience in the sports and news business; including ESPN, CNN, CNN/SI, Fox Sports & CNN Headline News.