The Stanley Cup Playoff hopes of the New York Islanders and New York Rangers going into the Wednesday Night Rivalry game at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV) are a lot farther apart than the buildings they call home.
At the Manhattan end of the rivalry are the Rangers, cruising toward the playoffs. Despite the absence of starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who will miss his seventh straight game because of a hip injury, the Rangers are all but assured of finishing no worse than the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference; they have a 13-point lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs, who hold the second wild card, and a 16-point lead on the Islanders.
That's not the case in Brooklyn, where the Islanders have spent the past two months trying to dig out from an awful first half. They've been better since moving Thomas Greiss into the starting goalie role in place of Jaroslav Halak, who was sent to the American Hockey League on Dec. 31, and naming Doug Weight coach Jan. 17. They were last in the Eastern Conference on Jan. 24, but enter Wednesday three points behind the Maple Leafs for the second wild card from the East. But with less than three weeks left they'll need to go on a big run to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Here are 5 reasons to tune in:
The Islanders center has stepped up his game after a slow start. He is their leading scorer with 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) in 71 games, and has had success against the Rangers during his career with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 38 games. Tavares is relentless on the puck, especially in the offensive zone, and has added penalty killing to his responsibilities this season. In addition, expect him to be on the ice for big faceoffs; he's their only regular center winning more than half his draws.
Video: CBJ@NYI: Tavares wrists one in through traffic
The Islanders' second first-round pick (No. 28) in the 2014 NHL Draft was called up from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on Feb. 27 and has shown what the Islanders saw in him. Ho-Sang, 21, has speed and skill in abundance, and Weight has been impressed by his composure and confidence. Like most young players Ho-Sang needs to improve his play away from the puck and be more willing to make safe plays. But he's one of those players who gets fans buzzing every time he touches the puck. Ho-Sang will make mistakes, but he's fun to watch.
The 27-year-old has given the Rangers everything they could have asked from a backup goaltender, and then some. This will be Raanta's seventh straight start since Lundqvist injured his hip, and the third time he has played in each end of a back-to-back set. Raanta is 2-2-2 in Lundqvist's absence after a 3-2 overtime loss at the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. He has given the Rangers a chance to win every time he starts and has the confidence of his teammates and the coaching staff.
Video: NYR@NJD: Raanta gobbles up Moore's snap shot
Grabner, who played for the Islanders from 2010-11 through 2014-15, has been one of general manager Jeff Gorton's best free agent signings. Though he sees virtually no power-play time, he leads the Rangers with 27 goals (26 even strength, one shorthanded). At age 29 he remains one of the fastest players in the NHL and always is a breakaway waiting to happen. The 27 goals are the most he has scored in a season since he had 34 with the Islanders in 2010-11, when he was a Calder Trophy finalist.
The Islanders looked like a worn-out team by the end of last week after playing 10 games in 17 days, a stretch that began with the last six games of a nine-game trip. They've had three days off since a 3-2 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, allowing them to get some much-needed rest and practice. The Islanders need to come out with their best effort against their biggest rival if they hope to make the playoffs. The Rangers are breezing their way to the postseason, but the Islanders have no room for error.