Let us be clear about the nature of the modern NHL’s wild card- and shootout-aided final month of games: Every game is massively important and yet...each is just another game.
The New York Islanders and Boston Bruins are tied in points ahead of their final meeting of the season tonight, with both vying for the lone remaining accessible wild card playoff spot. They have nine and eight games remaining, respectively.
This is big.
Biggest game of the year so far tonight in Brooklyn. pic.twitter.com/KEeqkWnUi0— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 25, 2017
Yet it’s also just another game. They will all only keep getting bigger as the season winds down and escape routes diminish. The seven and eight games for each team that follow tonight’s contest really matter...like...a lot.
Because how did we get here? The Bruins were on a 6-1 run before they lost four straight over the past week. The Isles were in a playoff spot before they lost three of four as they concluded and returned from their nine-game road trip, then got back into that playoff spot with 3-2 wins at the Rangers and Penguins this week.
During that time, they went from chasing the Leafs — who now hold an Atlantic proper playoff spot -- to chasing the Bruins.
All of which is to say, no matter what happens tonight, at most one team will emerge two points ahead, with a remaining schedule that has room for 6-1 runs or 2-5 slumps.
And yet...hot damn, tonight should be fun.
Coming off a traveling back-to-back, the Isles won’t have coach updates until 5 p.m. But it’s expected that Thomas Greiss will start for tonight’s game after Jaroslav Halak’s triumphant return in Pittsburgh.
Barring injury surprises, expect the defense to remain the same* after two straight close wins with Dennis Seidenberg as a healthy scratch. Johnny Boychuk remains out.
UPDATE 1*: Seidenberg is back in, Thomas Hickey is out.
At forward, Ryan Strome is out with his broken wrist. Nikolay Kulemin left last night’s game, but interim coach Doug Weight said afterward that he hoped* Kulemin would be available tonight. Kulemin happens to be the goal-scoring game winner of record in the Islanders’ two wins in Boston this season, for what that’s worth.
If not, Stephen Gionta has been the healthy scratch and Shane Prince is the guy who’s been working his way back from injury, but hasn’t played in a game yet.
UPDATE 2*: Kulemin is out, Gionta is in.
The big news out of Boston is that Tuukka Rask is out for tonight.
Great news for the Isles? Well, they chased Rask from both prior meetings this season, leaving him with a .786 save percentage against him this season.
And his backup, Anton Khudobin? He’s lost his last three starts against the Islanders, but his history going back to Carolina and Boston also features some “oh good, we got the backup toni— LOSS” moments.
Even with this four-game losing streak, the Bruins are 12-7 under Bruce Cassidy.
This one is on MSG+ for TV, with the radio feed on AM970 - The Answer, 88.7FM - WRHU and 103.9FM - LI News.
For Bruins coverage and their jumbled lines, check out Stanley Cup of Chowder.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here by game time, which is 7 p.m. EDT.