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Rangers, Islanders close Yankee Stadium games

by Kevin Weekes

The New York Rangers' 7-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils at Yankee Stadium on Sunday was an entertaining game against a truly magnificent background. Fortunately it was the first of two games that will take place at the iconic stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.

The two-game series at Yankee Stadium wraps with a Wednesday Night Rivalry matchup between the Rangers and New York Islanders, their second of three games in a 10-day span. It's a huge game for both teams that will close a historic time for New York sports.

From a Rangers standpoint I love the fact that they stuck to their game plan against the Devils. They didn't start well but coach Alain Vigneault was telling them that he wanted to see them play in numbers, especially defensively. They didn't do that at the start of the game but they made adjustments, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made his adjustments and they came out flying in the second period.

They also played to their strength of speed. That was one of my keys for the Rangers: Play that up-tempo game. I really think that has helped them in these past 12 games. Between Chris Kreider, Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin, they're a fast team. They did that against New Jersey and that really turned the tide, especially in the second period.

I also think that the Rangers having that first game at Yankee Stadium already under their belts gives them an advantage. Not just tactically but also physically. They now know what works and what doesn't as far as hydration, temperature and all those things. They've been through that; they know the venue and its sightlines and depth perception.

The Islanders have been excellent. Their top line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek is so tough to defend. Pick your poison with that line. They're all strong, they're all bulls, they're strong on their sticks. They do a good job of working the wall and the front of the net. It will be interesting to see who matches up against that top line. Anton Stralman and Marc Staal were excellent against the Devils on Sunday. It was Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi who faced them when these teams played Jan. 21 at MSG. But that didn't work out so well for the Rangers, who lost 5-3.

Also with the Islanders I'm interested to see what impact having Evgeni Nabokov back might have. Kevin Poulin has played very well. He's a talented young goaltender. But what impact will Nabokov have? I saw him say he was Russian so the outdoor elements don't mess with him. Will Poulin get another start after getting pulled Monday against the Boston Bruins? We'll find out.

The real question is whether the Rangers' speed will work against the Islanders, who also have speed to burn. The Islanders are a lot younger than the Devils and have faster skaters with younger legs. It's less of a factor than it was against the Devils, but for the Rangers to continue playing the way they've been playing they need to use that speed game. I think the speed is more in keeping with their personnel. They also have to continue to use the width of the rink to make plays.

This is a big divisional game but it also will be one last chance to see the incredible setting at Yankee Stadium, which was sick for Rangers-Devils. Near the end of the game Sunday the sky just looked beautiful, you could still see the white of the clouds. The pictures were sweet and the venue is amazing.

The visuals during the day game were incredible but it will be interesting to see how it looks at night. That element could play a major factor for Game 2 in the Bronx. Either way it's going to be awesome.

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