The rite of passage for any new Islander is simple: Join the team. Hate the Rangers. Look forward to the extra boost that comes from a late-season meeting between the two local rivals.
“I’ve only been here six months and I hate ’em,” Jason Chimera said. “It’s not just the team, it’s the people that cheer for them. You hear your neighbors talking about the Rangers and you want to beat them even more.”
Thursday’s Isles-Rangers game at Barclays Center doesn’t have the same implications for both sides. The Rangers are riding a six-game win streak and are pushing among the upper echelon of the Metro Division for home ice in the playoffs. The Islanders come in off their worst loss of the season, a 7-1 thumping by the Leafs in Toronto that left the Isles 3-3-1 in their last seven after starting 5-0-1 under interim coach Doug Weight.
So the Isles entered Wednesday night three points back of Toronto for the final playoff berth in the East and 15 points behind the Rangers, who occupy the first wild-card spot. Safe to say Thursday is quite a bit bigger for the Islanders, especially in light of Tuesday’s failure.
“They played it like a playoff game. We didn’t play it like a playoff game,” Weight said on Tuesday. “We have a great opportunity on Thursday and we should play that one like it’s a playoff game.”
The best news for the Islanders is that they’re at home on Thursday. The Rangers haven’t won in Barclays Center in three visits over this season and last after winning six of their last seven trips to Nassau Coliseum; the Isles have won five of the last six meetings between the two teams.
The common thread in the four losses the Islanders have had over the last seven seems to be timely mistakes and the opponent’s team speed breaking the Islanders down in the defensive zone. The Islanders were off on Wednesday with three games in four nights approaching and changes did not seem to be in the offing, so Weight has faith his team can gather itself to be quicker to pucks and into the rush than it was on Tuesday.
“We don’t have time to dwell on any games, win or lose,” John Tavares said. “There’s too many games to play right now. We just have capitalize on our chances and keep trying to get the points we need.”