With a playoff spot clinched and outcomes other than the top wild card spot not very likely, the New York Islanders are in triage mode as they manage their lineup and injuries through the final three games in four nights of the regular season.
They have company in that regard in their cross-town rivals, which makes tonight's meeting with the Rangers an uncharacteristic low-stakes affair in the Battle of New York.
True, the Isles can conceivably get to second place in the Metro with home ice for the first round (but it's the longest shot). True, they can pass the Rangers for third and then draw the Penguins in the first round, by winning their last three outright. (But...does anyone want that?)
But tonight and the following two games on Saturday and Sunday are more about keeping everyone as healthy as possible for the best of seven-to-28 games that would follow. The much-heralded potential all-New York first-round series will have to wait, thanks to the weasels from Pittsburgh.
Islanders (44-26-9, 4th/Metro) @ Rangers (45-26-9, 3rd/Metro)
7 p.m. EDT | MSG/+
The World's Most Multi-Purpose Arena
Banter'd: Blueshirt Banter
Not that an Isles fan should ever pity a Rangers fan, even if it's his brother, but the Rangers have their share of key injuries too: Foremost is Ryan McDonagh, with a reported broken bone in the hand that has him out now and maybe for the beginning of the playoffs. Dan Girardi is also wounded, though that's much less of an impact, even during "playoff hockey" that fits his style, a la Brian Strait.
Speaking of whom, Strait left last game with an injury, joining a long list for the Isles. That includes long-term absences Jaroslav Halak, Travis Hamonic, Adam Pelech and Mikhail Grabovski, plus recent "day-to-days" Cal Clutterbuck, Jean-Francois Berube and Calvin de Haan. (And now add Matt Martin to that list.)
Coach Jack Capuano, who is now in full Playoff Secrecy Mode, nonetheless said he thought de Haan would be able to play tonight. Reports from the morning skate had Scott Mayfield and Clutterbuck staying out for extra work, making it look like neither would play.
All we knew for sure in the morning and afternoon was that Thomas Greiss is starting.
UPDATE: Here are the lines...
Outside of the scenarios outlined by Eric Hornick in The Skinny, the paths to seventh place are the most likely. A regulation loss tonight means the Isles can finish no higher than the first wild card spot, fourth in the Metro. If they gain a point tonight or any night here on out then they guarantee themselves at least that spot.
Oh, and not too significant but wonderful for the general order of things: An Isles win tonight means a season sweep of the Rangers, which you could also view as the chief reason the Smurfs missed out on home ice in the first round.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here before puck drop.