Surging New York Rangers seek payback against rival Islanders
April is here and the march towards the playoffs is in full force for the New York Rangers. Standing in their way tonight are the New York Islanders. Gerard Gallant’s charges will be on their toes as they look to exact a little payback for a 2-1 loss on St. Patty’s Day last month.
The surging Blueshirts are also looking to keep pace in a tight Metropolitan Division race when they host their crosstown rivals on Friday.
The Rangers have 93 points, one more than the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins, a squad they beat a week ago and again on Tuesday. The Rangers are five points behind the first-place Carolina Hurricanes, a team they beat on March 20 and will face again on April 12.
New York Rangers surging at right time
Entering the season’s final month, the Rangers are in contention for a division title because of some recent results. They are on a four-game winning streak and are 8-2-0 since absorbing consecutive lopsided road losses to the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues.
The Rangers have recorded each of their past three wins by one goal, giving them 21 such victories overall.
After holding on for a 3-2 win in Pittsburgh, the Rangers erased three one-goal deficits and earned a 5-4 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. Newcomer Andrew Copp scored 94 seconds into the extra session to give backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev a victory.
Artemi Panarin set up Copp’s game-winner. Panarin also scored in the second period and notched the primary assist on Chris Kreider’s tying power-play goal late in the third.
Panarin’s 10th three-point game of the season gave him 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in his past 10 games. Kreider scored league-leading 24th power-play goal of the season, tying Jaromir Jagr’s single-season team record set in 2005-06.
Panarin’s final assist helped New York get its 24th comeback win, though he would prefer the Rangers avoid falling behind at any point.
“A lot of games (have gone) like that for us this season. We can’t play like that if more important games (are) coming,” Panarin said. “It’s a big risk, not always you can do that. We’ll have to play better right away.”
Rangers lineup deeper after trade deadline
The New York Rangers lineup is much improved after acquiring Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, and Tyler Motte in late March. All three are playing important roles and have been a big part in the team’s latest winning streak.
A lot of credit needs to go to the head coach. Gallant continues to make the right adjustments at the appropriate times during a game. Against Detroit, he moved Artemi Panarin to the first line to spark the team to a win.
“[Detroit] was matching lines, I wanted to make them think a little bit so I switched it up,” Gallant explained of the line shuffling.
When pressed if he would make that his new go-to line, he joked maybe before concluding with a firm no.
The Rangers were playing the second set of a back-to-back after an emotional division matchup against the Penguins.
“It wasn’t great being behind the bench trying to find a way to push your guys,” he said. “It was a different type of game (than Pittsburgh on Tuesday), but the bottom line is that we got two big points and we move on.”
That should not be the case tonight as the Rangers-Islanders rivalry is expected to heat things up even though the Isles are unlikely to make the playoffs.
Igor Shesterkin is expected to get the start.
Islanders will be a tough opponent
The Islanders have split the first two meetings with the Rangers. They recorded a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden on March 17 after taking a 4-1 loss in Elmont, N.Y., on Nov. 24.
At this point, the Islanders are looking to be spoilers in the race after back-to-back trips to the playoff semifinals. Their November loss to the Rangers was part of an 11-game losing streak in which they battled a significant COVID-19 outbreak. While the skid derailed the Islanders, the March win over the Rangers was part of a respectable 10-4-1 stretch.
The Islanders continued their improved play Thursday night, when they scored three times in the third period of a 5-2 win over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. Kyle Palmieri netted the tiebreaking goal early in the third. Mathew Barzal had a goal and an assist for the Islanders, who recovered after squandering a 2-0 lead.
“There’s no quit in the group. There hasn’t been all year,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s been at times maybe some frustration, but there’s never been any quit where they … throw up their hands and just walk away. There’s none of that at all.”
The Islanders’ remaining 16 games feature 13 contests against teams in playoff contention. After the victory over Columbus, the Islanders are 8-2-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents since Jan. 13.
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–Field Level Media contributed to this article.