Rangers, Islanders set up for huge weekend showdown
As the final minutes of the Islanders’ 4-1 win over the Flyers ticked off the clock Tuesday night, the 13,888 at the Nassau Coliseum began chanting “We want playoffs.”
The chant was equal parts plea, demand and request.
Saturday night, against their most hated rival, the Islanders and Rangers will meet at the Coliseum for the fourth and final time in this abbreviated regular season in one of the most anticipated games between the two in recent memory.
“We really haven’t accomplished a whole lot. We’ve given ourselves an opportunity and we just want to take advantage of the opportunity,” Islanders star John Tavares said after the win over the Flyers.
Tavares finished with two points (a goal and an assist) and a plus-1 rating Tuesday night in another statement performance about his Hart Trophy candidacy.
“We have a great opportunity. I think we want to give it to them. That’s what we’re striving for. We’re playing much better and giving ourselves the best possible chance we can. Just keep going the way we are and I like our chances.”The Islanders have won 7-of-10. The Rangers are 4-1-1 in their last six games.
Due to the NHL’s convoluted formula to determine winners and losers, the Rangers are 2-0-1 against the Islanders this season, while the suburban team is 1-1-1 against the Original 6 franchise.
The Rangers won the last meeting, a 2-1 overtime decision March 7. Since-departed Marian Gaborik scored the overtime winner with a slap shot from the point on the power play which led to Islanders assistant coach Brent Thompson being suspended for two games for “inappropriate and abusive comments he directed at on-ice officials,” according to league statement the following day.
The teams could enter the match in a three-way tie with Ottawa with 44 points. The Rangers are off until Saturday. The Islanders were in Boston on Thursday night while the Senators visited the free-falling Flyers.
“Yeah, a point,” head coach John Tortorella said when asked about the importance of the skills competition point the Rangers earned in the 3-2 shootout win over the Leafs Wednesday night at the Garden. “At this time of year, it’s a huge second point for us, there’s no question. That’s a big, big win for us. To get those two points is really important for us at this time of year.”
Ottawa is the sixth seed due to two fewer regulation and overtime losses. The Senators have a game in hand on both the Rangers and Islanders. The Rangers and Islanders each have eight games remaining this season.
The Islanders are in seventh because of one more regulation and overtime win. Even with the 3-2 shootout win over Toronto Wednesday night, the Rangers are in eighth. But if the Senators and Islanders lose in regulation, the Rangers could enter Saturday night’s match in sixth.
“We need all the points we can get right now so it’s great to see [Henrik Lundqvist] and [Mats Zuccarello] step up in the shootout,” Carl Hagelin said after the win over the Leafs. He and Ryan McDonagh each finished with two points in that match. “Two points [are] what we are looking for every game.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.