Saturday, April 13, 2013
W2W4: Rangers at Isles
By Katie Strang
At a glance: Ready for a real rivalry? Too many times in recent years the Battle of New York has failed to live up to its billing, but not this season. After missing the playoffs for five straight seasons, the Islanders are poised to make their first postseason appearance since 2007. With eight wins in the last 10 games, the seventh-place Isles are two points ahead of the eighth-place Rangers. The atmosphere at Nassau Coliseum has been downright electric of late, and the excitement will intensify as their rival Blueshirts visit Saturday.
Trying to climb: With two weeks left until the end of the regular season, the two clubs are both trying to climb the Eastern Conference standings, in hope of drawing a favorable matchup. The coveted sixth spot is up for grabs for both the Islanders and the Rangers, who are two and four points back of the Ottawa Senators, respectively. Why is that the target seed? Whichever team claims that seed draws the winner of the Southeast -- widely viewed as the weakest division in the league -- in the first round. The Washington Capitals sit on top of the Southeast with 46 points and a game in hand, but the Winnipeg Jets trail them by a mere two points with six games to play. Both the Isles and Rangers would like to avoid drawing a matchup against the first and second seed, currently occupied by the dominant Penguins and the high-octane Canadiens.
Playoff implications: The Rangers can pass the Islanders with a regulation win Saturday, since they have a game in hand on the Isles. Meanwhile, the Islanders have the chance to split the head-to-head tiebreaker with a regulation win over the Rangers. 2-0-1 in the first three meetings of the season, the Blueshirts hold a 5-3 edge in points in this series.
Streaking second line: The Islanders have been paced by leading scorer John Tavares and their top line all season, but the second line of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo has been leading the way of late. Bailey, who notched a pair of goals in the Isles’ 2-1 win in Boston on Thursday night, has seven points in the last six games while Nielsen has six points during that span. Okposo has three points in the last four games.
New faces: There will be some new faces in the Rangers lineup since the last time these teams played. Forwards Ryane Clowe and Derick Brassard and defenseman John Moore, all acquired by the Rangers before the trade deadline, will get their first taste of the rivalry Saturday. Clowe comes to New York after spending eight seasons with San Jose, while Brassard and Moore were acquired in a deal with Columbus that sent Marian Gaborik to the Blue Jackets.