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Rangers battle the Islanders in important matchup for playoff seeding

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers vs islanders 3-6

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

With two games remaining in the season, the Rangers (45-26-9) face an interesting conundrum in tonight’s matchup against the Islanders (44-26-9); Win and try to catch the Penguins? Or worry more about generating a consistent offensive game plan and be content for a wild card spot?

Obviously, no NHL team is going to intentionally lose, that’s foolish. But the Rangers are in a situation where they may be better off with a loss. Winning would pull them closer to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are arguably the league’s hottest team, but they’re without Marc-Andre Fleury. A loss would drop them closer to the first Wild Card spot, where they might have an easier route against teams like the Penguins and Bruins/Red Wings.

Either way, tonight is a big matchup between two rivals and a big matchup when it comes to playoff seeding. The Rangers have not won a single game against the Islanders, who are currently without Jaroslav Halak.

This is the fourth and final game between the New York rivals, with the Blueshirts holding a 0-2-1 record. The most recent game was a wild, 10 goal thriller that saw seven goals in the first period and the first two goals from Eric Staal. That made it three straight losses as well as in six of the last seven against the Isles on home ice.

Rookie Christopher Gibson started his first NHL game in the Islanders’ last win over the Capitals, which means that Thomas Greiss will likely get the start. Greiss has been the team’s best signing in the offseason, strengthening up their goaltending and giving Jack Capuano another go-to option. Halak hasn’t been great and is now injured, which makes Greiss even more important. In 39 appearances, Greiss is 22-11-4 with a 2.37 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

Frans Nielsen has been a consistent producer for the Islanders since beginning his career there in the 2006-07 season. He’s a 50 point center, a reliable defensive player, good on faceoffs, and effective on special teams. He’s close to hitting 20 goals for the second time in his career, and will always be an impact player. Nielsen has four points/assists in the last four games.

John Tavares has really been tearing it up lately, heating up as the playoffs approach. With eight points (4-4-8) in the last four games, the captain is leading by example, and has a team-high 67 points (31-36-67).

The Rangers are coming off of a comeback win over the Lightning, with goals from Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. But in the process, they lost Dan Girardi to injury after he was boarded by Brian Boyle. The extent of his injury is unknown, but it’s very possible that he misses tonight’s game.

Henrik Lundqvist has been playing a lot lately, including both games of the Rangers’ back-to-back, where he picked up two wins. After the team’s terrible start against the Lightning, Lundqvist face a lot of shots and wound up stopping 39 of 41. AV is probably really pushing to win this game, so I expect to see Hank in the net. Lundqvist is 35-20-7 with a 2.46 GAA and a .921 save percentage.

There’s a very likely possibility that captain Ryan McDonagh is going to miss playoff time with an undisclosed arm/hand injury, so some of the onus falls on rookie Brady Skjei. He has a tremendous opportunity to prove himself and prove his talent to AV for next season. He’s played in five NHL games so far, and has been used in many situations by the Rangers, plus he has gotten considerable ice time. The always calm, composed and confident Skjei will get his first taste of the rivalry matchup tonight, and he’ll have a chance to get some playoff experience if he plays well enough.

Jesper Fast was named the Players’ Player award recipient by the team this morning as the 24 year old forward has thrived in his second full season. He’s already doubled his point total from last season and has continued to improve on both sides of the puck. He’ll likely be on a line with Eric Staal again, and either Oscar Lindberg or Kevin Hayes, which is a line that needs to start producing consistently heading into the playoffs. If Fast can start getting his offensive game back, the Rangers could be in a much better situation.

The Rangers and the Islanders will face off at Madison Square Garden at 7 PM. The game will be broadcasted on MSG Network.

POTENTIAL LINEUP (Not Confirmed)

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-JT Miller

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Eric Staal-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Viktor Stalberg

Marc Staal-Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle-Dylan McIlrath

Brady Skjei-Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on April 7, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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