The New York Islanders close out the regular season at Nassau Coliseum with a chance to win back what looked like to be theirs through much of the Coliseum's final season: Home ice in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
Because the Washington Capitals lost at home to the New York Rangers earlier today (thanks, "brothers"!), the Isles will start on home ice if they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in any fashion tonight (regulation, overtime or shootout). Parallel to that real stakes is the poetic and historic: The first formal sendoff for the Coliseum, the home of so many memories, because once the playoffs start no one will know when the true end comes until it's over.
Blue Jackets (41-35-5, 5th/Metro) @ Islanders (47-28-6, 3rd/Metro)
NASSAU [gloriously unsponsored] VETERANS MEMORIAL COLISEUM
7 p.m. EDT | Pre-game activity at 6:45 p.m.
MSG+ | NHL Network | WRHU
Finishing out in style: The Cannon
This is always the dicey time of year in terms of lineups and good ol' "motivation" in games. Though the Capitals needed a win to assure home ice, in their game with the Rangers, they sat Eric Fehr (upper body), Jay Beagle (upper body) and Tom Wilson (head) while saying they would have played if the playoffs started today.
For the Isles, Jack Capuano offered no details on his lineup moves -- even Travis Hamonic, who looked to take a bad injury last night, was only listed as "to be evaluated" today -- but you can hear the coach's media scrum here [mp3]. Chances are we won't hear anything firmer until shortly before game time.
The Blue Jackets have finished on an amazing 11-0-1, including a shootout win over the Isles in Columbus last week. The Isles won the prior two meetings this season. Finally healthy after beginning the season with a nightmare litany of injuries, the Jackets have already sent a message that they'll be back in the Metro playoff race next year.
So, you know, if they want to just take it easy to day and enjoy the festivities, that would be fine.
Art Ross Race
Ancillary to the night's major significance, Islanders captain John Tavares also has the chance to win the Art Ross trophy. He would be just the second Islander to do so in the franchise's 43 seasons, with Bryan Trottier last winning it for the orange and blue back in 1978-79.
All of that will be secondary tomorrow when the scope of the coming playoff series with the Capitals -- whether it starts here or in D.C. -- begins. But for tonight, memories, stakes, and hopefully the start of something more.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. Leave your Coliseum memories everywhere.