Islander playoff push continues with big game against the Rangers at UBS


The Islanders and Rangers have not met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1994 when the Blueshirts swept the Islanders in the first round on their way to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

While it’s possible that there could be a “Battle of New York” in this year’s playoffs, the Islanders and Rangers will square off Tuesday night at UBS Arena in what amounts to a playoff game for the Islanders and a chance for their rivals to potentially keep them out of the playoffs.

The atmosphere should be electric.

“It’s going to be a good atmosphere and a great game,” Islanders captain Anders Lee told Greater Long Island. “We have a big test in front of us. This is a good hockey team coming into our building and one that we’ve played a lot over the years and one we know very well. We have to be at the top of our game and ready for a big one.”

Big is a good way to describe this game, especially for the Islanders.

But these games are always generally played at a fever pitch, regardless of where the teams are in the standings. In this case, one team has already punched their ticket to the postseason and another team is trying to join them.

It should be great theatre.

“It will be fun to play them at UBS (Arena),” said Islanders forward JG Pageau. “Those games have a lot of emotion and energy and it’s a game that means a lot for both teams. It will be an easy one to get up for.”

And while the Islanders will be playing in their building, there will certainly be a lot of back-and-forth chanting among the sellout crowd of 17,250 that will be on hand.

That’s because you can certainly expect a lot of Rangers fans to be in attendance, making for one of the best atmospheres in all of professional sports.

“I would imagine it’s going to be pretty awesome,” said Islanders forward Matt Martin. “I’m sure they’ll have their fans in the building as well. It’s one of the best atmospheres in the game if not the best atmosphere in the game. I look forward to the game and it’s two points that we need.”

Two huge points indeed.

Playoff race

The Islanders currently reside in a playoff spot as they hold down third place in the Metropolitan Division with 85 points. It’s one of two potential playoff spots that the Isles are battling for, including the 2nd Eastern Conference Wild Card spot. There are five teams, the Islanders, Red Wings, Penguins, Capitals, and Flyers, who are fighting for those two spots.

While the Rangers are in a battle for the top seed in the East, the Islanders are battling for their playoff lives, and if they finish in the second wild card spot, they could be looking at a first-round matchup with their arch-rivals.

“We gotta make sure we get there first,” said Lee. “We’re taking it one day at a time. We’ll take (Tuesday night) when it comes and we’ll go from there. These division games…we see each other a lot and those tend to be the matchups in the playoffs, so wherever they fall they fall. We gotta get there first.”

The Islanders and Rangers will actually be playing twice this week, Tuesday night on Long Island and Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Tuesday night will mark the third meeting of the season between these two teams and the Islanders will be looking to come out on top for the first time.

On Feb. 18, in the Stadium Series game at MetLife Stadium, the Islanders let leads of 4-1 and 5-3 slip away and lost to the Blueshirts in overtime 6-5.

Then, on March 17, at MSG, the Rangers dominated the Islanders winning 5-2.

On Tuesday night, the Islanders will have to be on top of their game against All-Star Artemi Panarin and the Rangers.

“I know it’s a good team,” said Islanders head coach Patrick Roy when asked about facing the Rangers. “It’s a team that is very good on the rush. A guy like (Adam) Fox will be into the rush. If we don’t have good line changes, they will make us pay.”

The Islanders will do their best to take away the middle of the ice from the Rangers’ high-octane players like Panarin, Fox, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider. There’s also the potential for a highly physical contest, and that could mean a heavyweight rematch between Matt Martin and Rangers rookie enforcer Matt Rempe.

Many have been hoping for a sequel to their battle at the Stadium Series game.

“We’ll see,” said Martin. “We go out there and play the game and I let that stuff take care of itself at the end of the day. As a team, we’re just focused on going out there, getting two points, and winning the game. That’s where our mindset is at.”

Two points would push the Islanders closer to a playoff spot. Anything less than that would certainly make things a lot more difficult, especially with another game against the Rangers looming on Saturday for Thursday’s home game with Montreal.

But first things first for the “one day at a time” Islanders, and that’s a highly anticipated contest with the Blueshirts on Tuesday night.

Top: New York Islanders head coach Patrick Roy, second from left, reacts during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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