The so-called “mini-playoff series,” as described by the Islanders and Rangers, concludes on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
It’s a last chance for the Islanders to beat the Rangers in this stretch of three games in nine days between the bitter rivals.
“The first one wasn’t us, we didn’t play well structurally and we gave them a ton of odd-man rushes,” Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle said. “I felt like we played better in Long Island but we didn’t get the result. So, I think the message tonight is we’ve got to find a way to win. It’s the last game before the break for both teams. There’s nothing really to save it for. So, we’ve got to find a way to get two points.”
Both teams start their extended All-Star break/bye week after Tuesday night’s game. The Rangers next play against the Red Wings at the Garden on Jan. 31 and the Islanders face the Canucks at Barclays Center on Feb. 1.
The Islanders enter Tuesday night’s game in third place in the Metropolitan Division, six points behind the surging, second-place Penguins and just one point ahead of the surging, fourth-place Blue Jackets. They are only two points ahead of the Hurricanes, who hold the Eastern Conference’s second and final wild-card spot. The points cushion they built during a franchise-record 15-0-2 streak from Oct. 12-Nov. 23 is gone.
“That’s sort of the NHL,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “Could we have had a few more points? Yes, absolutely. Could we have played better through the last 20 games (9-8-3)? Absolutely. But you’re going to have some of that. We’ve got to build our game. We can’t worry about what’s around us. We’ve got to worry about what’s in front of us and tonight, that’s the Rangers. And the Rangers have won two games against us.”
The Islanders played one of their worst games of the season in a 6-2 loss at the Garden on Jan. 13. They played well but still lost, 3-2, at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night after Derick Brassard’s cross-checking penalty on Jesper Fast with 53.5 seconds left in regulation led to Chris Kreider’s power-play winner with 24.6 seconds to go.
“They’re going to be hungry,” said the Rangers’ Ryan Strome, an ex-Islander. “We beat them twice. I think it’s a great test for our group to see how we’re going to respond.”
The Rangers blew a one-goal lead and lost, 2-1, to the Blue Jackets on Sunday at the Garden. Oliver Bjorkstrand scored twice in the third period, including netting the winner with 26.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
Alexandar Georgiev, who started both games in net for the Rangers against the Islanders, again gets the call for the third matchup as coach David Quinn tries to juggle a three-goalie rotation along with future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist and Russian wunderkind Igor Shesterkin.
The statistics certainly support Quinn’s decision to go back to Georgiev against the Islanders.
He is 4-1-0 with a 1.40 goals-against average, a .955 save percentage and one shutout in five career appearances against them.
Thomas Greiss will start for the Islanders after making 31 saves in Sunday’s 2-1, eight-round shootout loss at Carolina. Greiss stopped the one shot he faced after relieving Semyon Varlamov midway through the third period of last week’s loss at the Garden. Varlamov made 25 saves in the loss to the Rangers at the Coliseum.
The Islanders “held” Rangers All-Star playmaker Artemi Panarin to a secondary assist (on Kreider’s winner) at the Coliseum after he had two goals and three assists in the win at the Garden. Panarin missed practice on Monday, with Pavel Buchnevich skating in his spot on Strome’s second line.
Panarin is expected to play on Tuesday night and Buchnevich, with just one goal and three assists, is expected to skate on Greg McKegg’s fourth line after being dropped from Mika Zibanejad’s top line in the third period against the Blue Jackets.
Anders Lee-Mathew Barzal-Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier-Brock Nelson-Josh Bailey
Michael Dal Colle-Derick Brassard-Tom Kuhnhackl
Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Leo Komarov
Nick Leddy-Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield
Noah Dobson-Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Greiss (13-7-1, 2.45 goals-against average, .923 save percentage)
Brendan Lemieux-Mika Zibanejad-Chris Kreider
Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome-Jesper Fast
Brett Howden-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko
Brendan Smith-Greg McKegg-Pavel Buchnevich
Brady Skjei-Jacob Trouba
Marc Staal-Tony DeAngelo
Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox
Alexandar Georgiev (12-9-1, 3.06, .913)