Tonight at Madison Square Garden those aspects remain — and the Isles are on a 6-0-1 run against their lesser siblings — but the stakes are much greater: The Rangers’ playoff position is all but mathematically assured, and there is very little room for them to increase their position -- which would actually draw a tough first-round matchup — or fall into the second wild card spot.
The Smurfs are six points behind Columbus (who has two games in hand) for a non-wild card spot, and 13 points ahead of Toronto, which occupies the second wild card spot. They’re coming off an overtime loss to the Devils but it doesn’t really matter.
The Islanders, on the other hand, are in an urgent final stretch. With 11 games left for each, they are three points behind the Maple Leafs heading into tonight. The Leafs play at Columbus.
The Isles have stalled since returning from a reasonably successful nine-game road trip that kept them in the hunt. The coaches have tried to get them back on point. Per interim head coach Doug Weight:
You have to go through your structure. To me everything starts on your breakout and as far as your desperation of playing fast-paced hockey in your [defensive] zone creates more offensive time. We had to get back to those little things, those little details. The guys were splendid in practice the last two days. We'll see what that means.
Weight announced the same forwards, but different lines, and a change on defense tonight.
The default was easy: Thomas Greiss starts in goal.
More interesting, Thomas Hickey — a healthy scratch last game — slots back in while Dennis Seidenberg (finally) sits.
Josh Bailey missed yesterday’s practice with illness, but he is still in. Alan Quine and Seidenberg are the healthy scratches, while Shane Prince and Johnny Boychuk remain out with injuries:
Ladd - Tavares - Bailey
Lee - Beauvillier - Ho-Sang
Nelson - Strome - Chimera
Kulemin - Cizikas - Clutterbuck
Line of the day goes to Joshua Ho-Sang:
"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."
That link also has assumed lines for the Rangers, who start Antti Raanta in goal while Henrik Lundqvist continues to sit as the Rangers
tank for the ideal playoff spot rest him for his injury.
Hopefully this goes better than the last time the Isles were on NBC Sports, who has U.S. national TV coverage tonight. The Islanders radio call is on 660AM, 101.9FM - WFAN, and 88.7FM - WRHU.
Check the Rangers fan perspective, if...like, that’s something you want, at SB Nation’s Blueshirt Banter.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here by game time, which is 8 p.m. EDT. Don’t pick Seidenberg.