NEW YORK -- The signs of a big regular-season game were present Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Media outlets that don't typically cover the morning skates were in attendance with cameras and reporters asking questions, trying to feed the hype machine for the latest game in the rivalry between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders. Typical clichés from the players were followed by atypical hype for a mid-January game. Even the coaches got into the build-up.
The Islanders and Rangers each have at least 50 points at the midway point in the season for the first time since 1978-79, so naturally their game Tuesday at the Garden is being billed locally as one for bragging rights, not to mention two more crucial points in the tightening Metropolitan Division standings.
The Islanders lead the division with 57 points in 42 games. The Rangers have won 13 of their past 14 games, including five in a row, to close the gap to five points; 12 points separated the Islanders and Rangers on Dec. 8, when the Rangers started their hot streak.