NEW YORK -- With the New York Rangers set to play the first of three games in 11 days against the New York Islanders, a home-and-home sandwiched around the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium, goaltender Cam Talbot got an interesting surprise Tuesday morning.
With No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist out with an illness, Talbot will get the start at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers agreed to a contract with 30-year-old David LeNeveu on Monday afternoon and he'll serve as the backup.
"I got here this morning and I was told he wasn't feeling well," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of Lundqvist. "Every time we've used Cam this year, he's given us a chance to win. So our group is very confident when he's in goal."
Talbot admitted he was surprised to get the call, but he's fairly familiar with the Islanders. His third career start was a 3-2 road win against the Islanders on Oct. 29. Playing with the Rangers' American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford, he also went head-to-head with many current Islanders who played in the AHL with Bridgeport.
"That was one of my first starts. Fans are pretty spirited for both teams. It should be a good game," Talbot said. "When you get to play a team 12 times a year [in the AHL], there's obviously some bad blood that gets developed. Whether it's up here [in the NHL] or down there, I don't think the organizations like each other too much."
Whereas each team was slumping entering the first game in October, the Rangers and Islanders come into Tuesday playing some of their best hockey. The Islanders have won six of eight while their division rivals are enjoying a 7-1-1 stretch. That success of late has been buoyed by each team's top line.
For Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who with partner Dan Girardi will likely be tasked with stopping the red-hot line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek, there is a sense of familiarity that goes beyond the storied Rangers-Islanders rivalry. Playing at the University of Wisconsin, McDonagh went against Okposo when the Islanders forward starred at the University of Minnesota.
"He was always a little bit stronger than everybody. It's just the way he worked hard. Pretty similar to what you're seeing now," McDonagh said. "It seems like he is one of the guys you kind of lean on. If your team is doing well, he's a big reason why. It's not a coincidence to see him doing well and helping the Islanders."
After getting a break in the Islanders' 4-3 shootout win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday, goalie Kevin Poulin will make his seventh start in the past eight games. Peter Regin and Radek Martinek will also be back in the Islanders' lineup to start a crucial stretch of three games against a heated rival.
"I know it's a big deal with the rivalry. But for us we just have to focus on one game at a time, one shift at a time," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said after the team's optional skate. "It starts with us managing the puck and making sure we play the style of hockey we have been playing."
Here are the projected lineups for the Islanders and Rangers:
Thomas Vanek - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Peter Regin
Michael Grabner - Brock Nelson - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Colin McDonald
Calvin De Haan - Matt Donovan
Brian Strait - Andrew MacDonald
Radek Martinek - Thomas Hickey
Scratched: Eric Boulton, Matt Carkner
Injured: Evgeni Nabokov (lower body), Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion), Travis Hamonic (upper body)
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Daniel Carcillo - Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Anton Stralman - Marc Staal
John Moore - Michael Del Zotto
Scratched: Justin Falk
Injured: Henrik Lundqvist (illness), Derek Dorsett (broken fibula)