The rivalry and stakes that need no introduction: The New York Islanders are in first place in the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division. The New York Rangers, three points behind, have four games in hand.
Whatever happens tonight at Nassau Coliseum in their fifth (and final regular season) meeting of the season, they are good candidates to meet again before 2014-15 is in the books. If they don't, this will be the historic building's last visit from the Smurfs, who have visited 125 times in the regular season alone.
Rangers (40-17-7, 2nd/Metro) @ Islanders (43-21-4, 1st/Metro)
7 p.m. EDT | MSG/+, NHL Network (U.S.) | WRHU
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Yandle-lay-hee-hoo: Blueshirt Banter
Several lineup notes to keep an eye on, though nothing but the goaltending was officially official this morning:
- Of chief importance, Kyle Okposo is coming back tonight. Jack Capuano said in the morning scrum [mp3] that it wouldn't necessarily be on the top line, at least not immediately. ("We're gonna move him around, we're gonna move all our guys around tonight.")
- Maybe he was being cheeky, but Capuano said he had "no idea" if Nick Leddy would be in the lineup after leaving last night's game. Arthur Staple notes he's played 320 consecutive games, so doesn't leave the lineup easily.
- On the other hand: Michael Grabner has been yanked from time to time this season, and tonight he might be the collateral damage from Okposo's return. Officially the lineup was to be determined, but Staple reported Grabner skating on a "fifth" line with Eric Boulton and Colin McDonald in the morning skate. (Kael Mouillierat was reassigned to Bridgeport.)
- As expected, Jaroslav Halak will be in goal after Michal Neuvirth took the Leafs duty last night.
Rangers Notes 'n Quotes
As for the Rangers, they have their own curious "grit" decision in play. From Mike Murphy at Blueshirt Banter:
#$@*. The Rangers will likely be scratching James Sheppard, who has been pretty darn good since the Blueshirts picked him up on deadline day, and returning Tanner Glass to the lineup for tonight's game. Why? I wish I knew my friends, I wish I knew.
The redpants have continued to roll even without franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Ironically, just as the man has started to show signs of being mortal, the team has improved enough to be a major threat without him. Cam Talbot looks to get his 16th start in 17 games during Lundqvist's absence. The Rangers have scored, scored and scored some more to help him, but he's coming off a big 1-0 OT shutout in Chicago over the weekend.
Talbot's used to seeing a different side of the Coliseum, normally in the walkway where the backup goalie sits. Per the Post:
As for the funniest thing he has heard a fan say: "I don’t even know if you can edit it," Talbot said, "so I’ll just leave it at that."
For their last visit to Fort Neverlose, Alain Vigneault respects the history, and the Stanley Cups, but knows tonight's focus is a battle between two good teams. Also from the Post:
"Their starts have been way better than ours in all four games, there’s no doubt," Vigneault said. "They’ve jumped on us. Give them full marks. They’re playing extremely well, they’re a good team. It took a real strong effort to beat them the first time. It’s going to take our best effort to give them a good game."
The series is 3-1. The standings are 1st vs. 2nd. For the first time in forever, the Isles and Rangers can both consider themselves among the NHL's elite at the same time. Now that's a proper derby.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight here. You can now pick Okposo.