Tonight's match-up between the New York Islanders and New York Rangers will have all the feel of a playoff game mixed with a heated rivalry. Expect the emotions to run a little bit deeper, the will to win to be a little bit stronger, and the noise in the Coliseum to be that much louder. This late season meeting with both teams in the playoffs and separated by only two points has this game shaping up to be one of the greats. What will the scene be like tonight in Uniondale? To describe in one word...electric.
The Islanders have not made the playoffs since the the 2006-2007 season where they slipped into the final spot on the final day of the regular season. They were ousted in the first round by the top seeded Buffalo Sabres and haven't tasted playoff hockey since. Now this young and energetic team has Islander fans buzzing about a playoff berth, and their team is playing some good hockey at the right time.
The Islanders are 8-2-0 in their last ten games, and had some big wins over teams fighting for a playoff spot. Not only are the Isles scoring goals, they are playing strong defense. In the ten game span the Islanders gave up more than two goals just once. The most impressive win came this past Thursday night up in Beantown. The Islanders shut down the high powered Bruins and held them to just one goal. I know Boston was missing a few players, but that does not take away from the stout defense the Islanders played. Josh Bailey, who has come on strong as of late, netted both goals against the Bruins. The Islanders currently hold the number seven spot in the Eastern Conference right behind the Ottawa Senators and right in front of the Rangers.
The Rangers are playing their best hockey of the season as well right now. Since April 1st, the Blueshirts are 4-1-1, and have out shot their opponents in every game. Newcomers Derick Brassard and Ryane Clowe have added a boos to a Ranger offense that at times looked like they couldn't score on a soccer net. But Tortorella has his team turning things around, and look to make a late push up the playoff ladder.
Derek Stepan and Rick Nash will be targeted all night by the Islanders defense. Nash and Stepan are one and two on the Rangers in points (Nash 35, Stepan 34). As for the Islanders, we all know who the Rangers must keep an eye on, and that's John Tavares and Matt Moulson. In twenty career games against the Rangers, Tavares has 8 goals and 13 assists, including two goals in two games at the Garden this year. The Rangers must also keep an eye on the speedy Michael Grabner who seems to have at least one breakaway every game. There's no room for error on the Rangers defense who has broken down at times and left players wide open in front of the net.
The intensity will be at an all-time high tonight between the Rangers and Islanders. Expect there to be some scrums and maybe a fight, but don't look for a slug fest between these two. Two points, and a stronger hold on a playoff spot are on the line tonight, so the two teams will have to play smart hockey. It is going to be a fun game and a game that let's New York hockey fans know that the hockey rivalry is back, for now at least. It's going to be loud, it's going to be exciting, it's going to be fun. And did I mention it's going to be loud tonight?
Puck drops at 7 p.m
P.S Ranger fans,
Don't expect the Coliseum to 60-40 or 70-30 in favor of the red, white, and blue tonight. They Islanders have had 17,000 fans filling the seats the past few home games and they are hungry for the playoffs.