Josh Ho-Sang gets his first taste of Islanders-Rangers on Wednesday in Madison Square Garden. He knows the deal.
“Isles-Rangers, that’s sick,” he said. “There’s a lot of made-up rivalries in the NHL, but this is a real one.”
And for the Islanders, there hasn’t been a more important one in a while. Both teams have made the postseason the past two years and those games were more position-jockeying. Wednesday night is a fight for survival for the Islanders, who are coming in with consecutive practice days and three days between games to feel rested and ready for a stretch run that begins Wednesday with 11 games over the final 19 days of the regular season and the Isles three points back of the Maple Leafs for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“It should be a good atmosphere, probably a good game for us to have, too — to get that emotion going that we’ll need to play with the rest of the way here,” Andrew Ladd said.
Doug Weight has juggled his forward lines after a 1-3-1 skid, moving Ladd back to the left side of John Tavares, where the two started this season. Anders Lee is now on the left side with rookies Anthony Beauvillier and Ho-Sang and the energy fourth line of Nikolay Kulemin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck is reunited.
“I just think Ladder, the last two and a half months has raised his game, obviously with the results he’s gotten and just the way he’s played,” Weight said of Ladd, who has 11 goals in the last 28 games. “At the end of the (nine-game road trip) he looked like a guy who’s been on those long ones before and everyone else looked beat.”
The team’s unsuccessful last week showed some fatigue as well as the Islanders lost home games in regulation to the Hurricanes and Jets, allowing 12 total goals to two teams out of the playoff picture. With the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins on the docket the next four nights, the Isles are facing some more elite teams in the East against whom they’ve had some success — they are 5-2-1 against those three teams this season and have won two of three against the Rangers.
“I think the whole year our best hockey has come against some of the top teams,” Ladd said. “We’re a confident group, we welcome the challenge having played well against a lot of those teams. It’s about how we as a group need to play, that identity we need to be successful.”
Notes & quotes: Josh Bailey missed Tuesday’s practice with an illness but Weight said he should be ready to play Wednesday. Johnny Boychuk (ankle) skated prior to practice but he is unlikely to return before next week . . . Thomas Greiss gets the start in goal on Wednesday. With the back-to-back games in Pittsburgh on Friday and home to the Bruins on Saturday the Islanders may summon Jaroslav Halak from Bridgeport before they head out on Thursday.