In an odd scheduling quirk, the New York Islanders and New York Rangers get together Thursday for the final time this season — with nearly four months remaining in the regular season.
The Islanders lead the three-game season series 2-0 after getting two wins within the first month of the season. The Islanders posted a 3-0 home victory Oct. 26 and then rallied for a 4-3 win in New York on Nov. 8.
Since then the NHL Board of Governors has discussed increasing the schedule to 84 games (from 82) so more rivalry games can be played without disrupting the rest of the schedule — hopefully avoiding things like the Islanders and Rangers concluding their season series in December.
Thursday’s game in Madison Square Garden is a quirk in which some division rivals only face each other three times in a season.
“As far as division games, I have my opinion on that and it’s very strong,” Islanders president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello said Monday. “We should play as many division games as we possibly can. There’s no question in my mind about that.”
Following an ugly 5-2 home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks back on Dec. 3, the Rangers won seven games in a row before the streak ended Tuesday when they allowed two power-play goals in the second period and three straight tallies in a 3-2 loss to the host Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I thought we played a great game,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after losing to the Penguins. “We worked hard and competed hard. It’s too bad for those power-play goals we gave up late in the second, but overall we played real good hockey.”
Sammy Blais took a penalty that led to Pittsburgh’s second power-play goal and was benched for the third period when the Rangers tried to make a comeback.
Still, in the seven-game winning streak the Rangers scored at least five goals four times and reeled off impressive victories over the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Islanders, meantime, are 3-5-2 in their past 10 since putting together a four-game winning streak in late November. They are 1-1-2 as they conclude a five-game trip, losing most recently a 1-0 shootout at Colorado on Monday.
“We feel like we deserve more than a point,” forward Anthony Beauvillier said. “I thought overall our game was really good. Just getting out of here with one point is kind of frustrating, but at the same time, we’re happy with our game.”
Ilya Sorokin had 46 saves in that one, and the Islanders could lean on him again since Semyon Varlamov has a lower-body injury sustained in Saturday’s win over the Golden Knights.
Kyle Palmieri and Cal Clutterbuck also could be out for a third straight game each after both players sustained upper-body injuries during Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
–Field Level Media