All the previous matchups go out the window Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden when the Rangers host the Islanders for the second time this season in a highly anticipated divisional game.
Back on Oct. 14, the Islanders whipped the Rangers at home, 6-3, but Islanders coach Jack Capuano downplayed that result.
"They're a different team than when we beat them the last time," Capuano said after both teams skated at the Garden on Tuesday. "They're healthy now, they're playing with a lot of confidence. They got off to a little bit of a slow start, they found their swagger, their attitude, their chemistry. Obviously the goaltending has been solid and they're healthy on the back end. Big test for our team."
Jaroslav Halak (22-8-0, 2.29, .914) and Henrik Lundqvist (20-8-3, 2.26, .918) are in the nets, with the same players dressing as in the teams' previous victories.
"They're playing four lines, they have real good balance up front, can play a skilled game," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, "but really structured when they don't have the puck. Their 1-3-1 in the neutral zone has been very effective. They make it hard to gain their end, so it'll be a good challenge as far as moving the puck."
One of the Rangers' tasks will be to limit the chances of captain John Tavares. "He's a helluva player," said Vigneault. "We have tremendous amount of respect for his skills and compete level, we know that if we're expected to compete against the Islanders, we've got to shut him down."
The Isles are 28-13-7 (57 points), five points ahead of the Rangers (24-11-4), who have played three fewer games and have won 13 of 14.
"There's definitely a lot of excitement in the air in this building," said Vigneault. "We both need the points."
Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin echoed the importance of getting points, but "we've got to play them five times this year, this is only the second time."
Capuano said this is not about bragging rights.
"It's too early in the season," he said. "I know it's a great atmosphere . . . I think every game is a playoff-type game. First 15 games, it is what it is, but right now, you watch a lot of games, they're all playoff-type games. Guys are pushing before this [All-Star] break and you'll see it after."
Said Derek Stepan: "Since I've been here, every time we play the Islanders, it seems like we both put our best games on the ice. I don't think anything's going to change."
F: Kreider-Stepan-St. Louis
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