Islanders and Rangers will see a lot of each other in 2021 NHL season
The Islanders and Rangers are going to be quite familiar with each other by the time the NHL’s truncated regular season concludes with the New York rivals playing eight times in a revamped East Division.
That includes back-to-back games at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14 and 16 to start their seasons. The Islanders then have their home opener against the Bruins on Jan. 18.
The NHL has re-aligned into four divisions — with all play within the division — to limit travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Islanders and Rangers are in a division with the Devils, Bruins, Sabres, Flyers, Penguins and Capitals. Teams will often play opponents multiple times in a row at one site to limit travel.
The Islanders do not play one team more than twice in a row during the season but they do have at least one two-game trip to every divisional opponent except for the Devils.
The Rangers will play the Devils four straight times from April 13-18 — with two games at each team’s arena — marking the longest string of games against one opponent in Rangers’ team history.
The seven Canadian teams are also in one division to account for U.S.-Canada border restrictions and those teams will play each other either 10 or 11 times. The NHL is still waiting final approval for that plan from Canadian provincial and health officials and may have to adjust the divisional alignments if the Canadian teams are forced to temporarily relocate to the U.S.
Overall, the NHL has scheduled its 56-game season in a sprint-like 116 days between Jan. 13 and May 8.
The NHL plans to have its teams play at their home arenas if local health and government officials approve. But the league, in a joint statement with the NHL Players’ Association on Sunday, noted it will be flexible in its plans and may use neutral-site hub cities for the divisions if necessary.
Still, the Islanders are planning on one more season at Nassau Coliseum before opening UBS Arena at Belmont Park for next season.
The Islanders will play 13 of their first 20 games on the road, including the two games against the Rangers and separate five-game road trips from Jan. 24-31 and Feb. 15-23.
But the Islanders also have a seven-game homestand from Feb. 25-March 11m including two games in a row against both the Penguins and Sabrea, and a six-game homestand from April 1-11 that includes two games against the Capitals, Flyers and Rangers.
The Islanders conclude their regular season with a two-game homestand against the Devils on May 6 and 8.
The Rangers don’t visit the Coliseum until April 9 but that marks the first of three games at the Islanders’ barn in 11 days, including April 11 and April 20. The Rangers also play at the Coliseum on May 1.
The Islanders’ other games at the Garden are on Feb. 8 and April 29.
The Rangers’ longest homestand is three stretches of four games, from Feb. 8-16, Feb. 26-March 4 and from April 23-29. Their longest road trip is a five-game stretch from March 5-13, including two games at both Pittsburgh and Boston.
The Rangers play six of their last nine games at the Garden and conclude the season with a two-game trip to Boston on May 6 and 8.
The NHL playoffs are slated to start on May 11. The top four teams in each division will qualify, with the first two rounds intra-divisional series. Teams will be seeded for the league semifinals based on their regular-season point totals. All four rounds will be best-of-seven series. The last possible day for the Stanley Cup Final is July 9.