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Isles vs. Rangers preview: Mini-playoffs, rivalry & points

The Rangers and Islanders will face off at MSG on Monday January 13, 2020 to begin a stretch of playing each other 3 times in 9 days. (Credit: Newsday / Colin Stephenson; New York Islanders)

The description was repeated in both the Islanders and Rangers dressing rooms at Madison Square Garden on Monday morning.

Both rivals believe this stretch of facing each other three times in nine days, starting on Monday night at the Garden, will resemble a mini-playoff series.

“There’s a rivalry factor there,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “They are important games for both teams. It’s like a mini-playoff series so I hope there is a playoff intensity from our end. They’ll probably have the same on their end. I’m looking forward to it, actually.”

In an NHL scheduling quirk, the Metropolitan Division rivals have yet to play this season but will complete their four-game regular-season series by Feb. 25 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. The teams also play Thursday at the Coliseum and back at the Garden on Jan. 21.

Yet it’s been a full calendar year since the teams’ last game, a 2-1 win for the Rangers on Jan. 12, 2019 at Barclays Center.

“Any time you’re going to play anyone in a short amount of time, you want to get off to a good start,” said Rangers left wing Micheal Haley said, who also played for the Islanders from 2010 to 2012. “You want to have the upper hand. We’re on home ice here.”

Both teams had two-game winning streaks snapped on Saturday night as the Bruins beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime at Barclays Center and the Rangers lost, 5-2, in St. Louis.

Both teams also will have game-time lineup decisions.

Rangers top-line right wing Pavel Buchnevich did not participate in the morning skate as he is ill with the flu. If he cannot play, second overall pick Kaapo Kakko likely will be moved onto Mika Zibanejad’s line with Chris Kreider and Phillip Di Giuseppe, recalled from the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford on Sunday, will likely be inserted into the lineup.

Defenseman Marc Staal (upper body), who did not play against the Blues, is also a game-time decision. Libor Hajek will dress if Staal cannot play.

For the Islanders, fourth-line center Casey Cizikas did not participate in the morning skate after being hit in the groin by David Pastrnak’s power-play shot in overtime on Saturday. Leo Komarov moved from right wing to the middle during the morning skate with Ross Johnston completing that trio with left wing Matt Martin.

Alexandar Georgiev, part of the Rangers’ atypical three-goalie rotation, will make his first start since a 2-1 loss at Vancouver on Jan. 4. Semyon Varlamov will make his second straight start for the Islanders and seventh in the last eight games.

The Rangers trail the Panthers by seven points for the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Islanders have slipped to third place in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the surging Penguins, who have won three straight and are on a 7-2-1 streak. The Islanders are only two points ahead of the fourth-place Hurricanes.

All of which only heightens the intensity surrounding these games with the Rangers.

“It’s fun games and both fanbases show well,” Martin said. “It’s a territorial battle and, the three games in nine days, it’s an opportunity to further separate ourselves from the pack. They’re a good hockey team that’s kind of hanging around right now and we’re still looking for more consistency in our game to climb in the standings. These are huge games. It’s sort of like a mini-playoff series here and we’ll do our best to come away with some wins.”

“The history of the two organizations is unbelievable,” Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei said. “The fans get into it. As players, we definitely do get motivated. You want to bring the same energy every night but these games are definitely circled on the calendar.”

Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle will play in his 700th NHL regular-season game.

Here are the projected lineups:

Islanders (27-12-4)

Anders Lee-Brock Nelson-Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier-Mathew Barzal-Josh Bailey

Michael Dal Colle-Derick Brassard-Tom Kuhnhackl

Matt Martin-Leo Komarov-Ross Johnston

Nick Leddy-Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield

Noah Dobson-Johnny Boychuk

Semyon Varlamov (15-5-4, 2.33 goals-against average, .923 save percentage)

Rangers (21-19-4)

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Kaapo Kakko

Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome-Jesper Fast

Brett Howden-Filip Chytil-Phillip Di Giuseppe

Micheal Haley-Greg McKegg-Brendan Smith

Brady Skjei-Jacob Trouba

Marc Staal-Tony DeAngelo

Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox

Alexandar Georgiev (10-9-1, 3.17, .909)


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