New York Islanders vs. Rangers Preview: Look ma, actual stakes

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It has been sadly all too rare in recent years decades for the New York Islanders and New York Rangers to resume their derby rivalry in March with real stakes on the line.

Sure, the lockout-shortened season means today's March is more like yesteryear's December, but even then, a meeting separated by two points in the standings is a treat that should be served up far more often.

In truth, the lockout and three-point games obscures all sorts of things: The Islanders are just two points behind the Rangers in a rather crowded Bubble of Meh in the Atlantic Division, so a regulation win pulls them "level" with the Rangers, while the Flyers and Penguins also meet and the Devils face the Sabures. However, the Rangers have two games in hand and, more damningly, the Isles have three more regulation losses.

Still. Here we are. It's March. The Rangers have underperformed. The Isles have underperformed -- we'll note our preseason fear, blah goaltending -- yet find themselves theoretically hanging around the bubble. Good odds for an emotional classic tonight at Nassau Coliseum, with fans of one side going home particularly bitter.

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Islanders (10-11-2, 10th/E) vs. Smurfs (11-8-2, 8th/E)
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The two teams meet for the third time in similar states, outside of the Rangers missing a key forward and key defenseman due to injury:

After a funk that nearly caused panic on Short Island, the Rangers have won three in a row and can see the route to a push up the standings.

After starting their seven-game homestand with two regulation losses, the Isles have pulled off an OT loss, a shootout win, and a convincing regulation win over the East's top team in the standings.

The Isles have yet to win three in a row all season -- and repeatedly fall short when presented with the opportunity to pull back to NHL quasi-.500.

There is no better time to change that than tonight.

Lineup Notes
  • Roman Hamrlik is skating at Rangers practice, but it was not guaranteed that he would face his old team with his new team.
  • In the nets, Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start opposite Evgeni Nabokov, so sadly there will be no Martin Biron this time to even out the goalie matchup.
  • Brad Richards, who took a Patrick "but he hits clean!!1" Kaleta Special from behind and missed last game, did not skate this a.m. Great read on the likely injury for him here.
  • Of course Marc Staal will also be out, but he is expected to make a full recovery after that gruesome puck to the face..
  • The Rangers recently recalled Micheal Haley, who played the other night against the Flyers. In some sort of tired coincidence -- and even though they had plenty of "physical intensity" the other night against Montreal -- the Islanders will scratch David Ullstrom in favor of Eric Boulton. (To be fair, Ullström was scratched for the last Isles-Rangers meeting as well, a shootout win for the Isles.)
  • Lubomir Visnovsky is still back in Slovakia dealing with a family tragedy, so he remains out.

Capuano, via the official site, expecting a physical battle:

"We had 73 hits in the game against Ottawa. We had a bunch of hits in the last game. We have to play physical. They play physical. We have to match other teams' intensity levels. That's part of our game. We're not playing dirty but we want to finish our checks and play clean hockey, and make sure we eliminate players so they can't join the play."

Haley, via Newsday's Arthur Staple, on facing his old team:

"There'll be emotion for sure, but there's no ill feelings towards them. They gave me my break."

It seems Isles fans hate the Penguins almost as much these days, and Rangers fans hate a rotating cast of Atlantic fellows led by the teams from Pennsylvania, but put some stakes on the line and the good ol' rivalry juices should be flowing.

Maybe there's a letdown by the Isles after two wins, or maybe we get an all-too-rare classic. Anything can happen in these crazy meetings. However it goes, I'm sure we'll read deep and meaningful conclusions from the result. And then we'll fire it back up Saturday for the Caps. Ah, hockey.

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