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Game Preview: Islanders at Rangers

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders
It’s going to be a heavyweight tilt between the Islanders and Rangers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The first-place Islanders are heading into Manhattan to take on the surging Rangers (13-1-0 in their last 14) in one of the most anticipated Islanders-Rangers games in recent history.

“Certainly it’ll be a heavyweight-style game” John Tavares said. “It’ll be a big test and certainly with only so many games heading into the break, we want to keep things going and finish off on the right foot. Certainly playing these guys always brings the best out of you.”

Islanders-Rangers games have always raised the stakes, but Tuesday’s matchup is about more than just bragging rights in New York. The typical Islanders-Rangers animosity will still be present in the stands, in the paper and online, but on the ice, the matchup has key implications in the Metropolitan Division standings.

The Islanders sit atop the Metropolitan Division, but the surging Rangers are only five points back with three games in hand. An Islanders win widens the gap and gives the team a cushion against the Rangers games-in-hand advantage, while a loss slims the Islanders lead over the Rangers to three points.

“It’ll be a big battle given where everyone is in the standings,” Matt Martin said. “It intensifies everything so much more.”

Despite his team’s positioning in the standings, Head Coach Jack Capuano wants the Islanders to continue to adopt the underdog mentality that’s helped to four wins in their last five trips to 32nd street.

“They’re the best team in the league right now,” Capuano said. “We like the underdog role going in and we will have to be at our best. Obviously they are healthy now, they have all of their bodies back.”

Rick Nash is on pace for a 50-goal season, with a league-leading 26 tallies in his first 39 games. Nash has goals in three of his last four and was the only Ranger named to the 2015 NHL All-Star Game.

Henrik Lundqvist is also red-hot for the Rangers. The goaltender has won 12-of-13 games and has only allowed one goal in each of his past three games.

Tuesday’s matchup pits New York’s top two teams against each other, as the Islanders and Rangers have the two best records of all nine New York metro area teams this year.

“It’s definitely an exciting time for New York hockey in general,” Martin said. “I think both fan bases are excited for the game and we’re excited to go in there.”

Martin added that it’s important for the Islanders to not get caught up in all the hype that surrounds every game at the Garden.

“It’s still a hockey game and we have to approach it the same way,” he said. “The fanbases and the media are going to blow it up. Most guys in this room have played in enough Ranger-Islanders games, or rivalry games, to know what to expect and how to approach it.”

Puck drop is at 7 p.m.

New York Islanders
28-13-1 (57 points – 1st in Metropolitan Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference)
14-9-1 road
New York Rangers
24-11-4 (52 points - 3rd in Metropolitan Division, 6th in Eastern Conference)
11-6-1 home
7:00  p.m.
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

Play-by-play: Howie Rose
; Color: Butch Goring
Channel Finder

Radio: WRHU 88.7 FM, LI News Radio 103.9 FM
Play-by-play: Chris King
Islanders News:
- Tavares on MSG Beginnings on Tuesday (Jan. 12)
- Islanders TV: Islanders vs. Rangers (Jan. 12)
- Islanders Prospect Report (Jan. 12)
- Islanders 5, Blue Jackets 2 (Jan. 10)
- Tavares to Represent Islanders at All-Star Game (Jan. 12)
Islanders player to watch
Jaroslav Halak - Goalie

Jaroslav Halak put himself back in the win column Friday, turning aside 21 shots in a 3-2 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils. The win halted a mini two-game losing streak, but the Islanders goaltender has been lights out this season, boasting a 22-8-0 record with three shutouts. Prior to the two-game slide, Halak had won 18 of 20 starts and had an 11-game win streak earlier this season. Halak made 40 saves at MSG on Oct. 14.
Rangers player to watch
Henrik Lundqvist - Goalie

Henrik Lundqvist is finding his groove and is a big part of the Rangers resurgence of late. The Swedish netminder has won 12 of his last 13 games, allowing two goals or fewer in 10 of them. Lundqvist is riding a four-game winning streak and has only allowed one goal in each of his past three games. The Islanders got the better of Lundqvist in their last meeting, scoring six goals on 27 shots in a 6-3 win over the Rangers.
New York Islanders previous game lines
12 Josh Bailey - 91 John Tavares - 21 Kyle Okposo
27 Anders Lee - 51 Frans Nielsen - 18 Ryan Strome
40 Michael Grabner - 29 Brock Nelson - 86 Nikolay Kulemin
17 Matt Martin - 53 Casey Cizikas - 15 Cal Clutterbuck

44 Calvin de Haan - 3 Travis Hamonic
2 Nick Leddy - 55 Johnny Boychuk
14 Thomas Hickey - 46 Matt Donovan

30 Chad Johnson
41 Jaroslav Halak

New York Rangers previous game lines
61 Rick Nash - 16 Derick Brassard - 36 Mats Zuccarello
20 Chris Kreider - 21 Derek Stepan - 26 Martin St. Louis
62 Carl Hagelin - 13 Kevin Hayes - 19 Jesper Fast
10 J.T. Miller - 28 Dominic Moore - 12 Lee Stempniak

27 Ryan McDonagh - 5 Dan Girardi
18 Marc Staal - 22 Dan Boyle
8 Kevin Klein - 17 John Moore

30 Henrik Lundqvist
33 Cam Talbot

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