No, the Rangers and Islanders will not meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But with both teams officially qualified and looking to ascend heading into the tournament, Thursday’s tilt between the rivals at the Garden should boast the electricity of a postseason affair.
“Obviously it’s always very intense, a lot of fun those games and this time of year it’s gonna be no different,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said Tuesday after the Rangers rallied for a 3-2 win over the Lightning. “The place will be rockin’ and it’s gonna be a good playoff atmosphere-type test for us at the end of the season. So it’ll be fun.”
Both clubs are holding out hope of capturing home-ice advantage for the first round. The Rangers (45-26-9, 99 points) have two games left and trail Pittsburgh, which occupies the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division, by three points. The fourth-place Islanders (44-26-9, 97 points) have one game in hand on both. The Rangers will play either Pittsburgh or Florida in the first round, the latter if they fall to the first Wild Card spot, while the Isles can still possibly fall to the second Wild Card spot and face Washington.
The Rangers and Islanders are battling for playoff positioning in final week of season.
Some history is also at stake in the Rangers’ penultimate game of the season. They’re 0-2-1 against the Isles this season, and a loss Thursday would mark the first time ever the Rangers finish winless against the Islanders in a regular season.
Paramount to that for both teams, however, is refining their game before the postseason begins next Wednesday. The Rangers salvaged Tuesday’s game after a brutal first-period, at the end of which they trailed 2-0 and were outshot 21-6.
“We want to use this week to be hitting on all cylinders,” Derek Stepan said. “What a good opportunity to play against the Islanders. Both teams are fighting hard to get into playoff position and I think it’s gonna be a great hockey game.”
The Islanders are looking to keep the Rangers winless this season in this crosstown rivalry.
The hits kept coming to the Rangers’ defensive corps on Tuesday. After the Rangers announced Ryan McDonagh (right hand) would miss the rest of the regular season and is out indefinitely beyond that, Dan Girardi departed the game with 1:08 left in the third after ex-Ranger Brian Boyle’s boarding infraction left Girardi visibly woozy. Alain Vigneault said after the game that Girardi was being evaluated, but added “as far as I could tell when I left, everything looked good.”
The Rangers and Islanders have had similar peaks and valleys this season, but now the goal is to finish strong in preparation for the second season.
“(The Islanders) had some hot steaks and they had some stretches where they’ve been struggling a little bit, just like us,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “Now it’s just a few games left. You try to do everything you can to amp it up and focus on your game to improve.
“Because in one week, it’s serious.”