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GAME DAY: Rivalry Returns to the Coliseum

Blueshirts Expect 'A Different Islander Team' in Rematch of Monday's Rout

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at ISLANDERS, 7 p.m.
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
MSG 2, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
On Monday night the Rangers won their fifth straight game at Madison Square Garden. On Thursday they'll try to rekindle a hot streak at a rink down the highway that they thought they had seen the last of.

The Blueshirts have won five of their last six visits to Nassau Coliseum, except that when they play there on Thursday night it will be their first game on Long Island in nearly five years. More to the point, Thursday night's match between the Rangers and Islanders will be a rematch of Monday's Ranger rout at Madison Square Garden, and the middle match of a three-game, nine-day mini-series in the Battle of New York that concludes early next week back on Broadway.

The Rangers' away games against the Islanders originally were assigned to Barclays Center in Brooklyn when schedules were released in June; the change was announced in September, affecting this game and the Rangers' other visit, on Feb. 25. It adds only one more wrinkle to a rivalry that got going late on the calendar this year but took no time at all on Monday to heat up.

The Rangers, though, are expecting to face the same players but a different opponent when the scene shifts to Long Island. Whatever frustration followed the Islanders out of the Garden on Monday -- and there was plenty -- they took some of it out on the Red Wings on Tuesday, in an 8-2 win at the Coliseum.

"They were probably still thinking about (Monday's) game (Tuesday) night, to be honest," said Marc Staal said of the Isles, who will have Casey Cizikas back after a two-game absence. "I'm sure they used Detroit as a tune-up game for us.

"We're going to see a different Islander team in their building, so we'll be ready right from the start. Should be exciting for this whole room."

Staal has more experience in this rivalry than nearly anybody in that Ranger room, and will play his 55th career game against the Islanders. The last time the Blueshirts played at the Coliseum -- March 10, 2015 -- Staal assisted on Rick Nash's tiebreaking goal in the third period of a 2-1 Ranger win in what was assumed to be the teams' 116th and final showdown at the Coliseum before the Islanders picked up stakes for Brooklyn.

"We've had some crazy games in that building, and they just always seem to be close and entertaining," Staal said. "Stuff's going on in the stands, stuff's going on on the ice -- just a fun rink, always one of my favorite places to play. So I'm excited to get to go back there and play."

Also exciting is to see what Artemi Panarin may have in store for an encore. Panarin is three days removed from a special night in a special season, two goals and three assists in Monday's Ranger win on a night when, in Coach Barry Trotz's words, his Islanders "just didn't have an answer for him."

Few have this season. Panarin has 12 points during a four-game point streak and enters Thursday's game fourth in the NHL in scoring (67 points in 45 games) and third in points per game (1.49).

But the Islanders also have yet to solve the riddle of Alexandar Georgiev, who will go for a second straight start in the Ranger nets after stopping 32 of the final 33 shots he saw Monday. In four career games against the Isles, Georgiev has a 1.21 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage.

At the other end, the Rangers will get a second look at Semyon Varlamov, whom the Blueshirts knocked out of Monday's game with six goals on 35 shots.

Panarin and Georgiev are two of eight Rangers who will play their first NHL game on Long Island, a list that includes Adam Fox, the Blueshirts' rookie blueliner who grew up a 10-minute drive away in Jericho and has plenty of youth hockey experience at the Coliseum. Fox was one of four Rangers with multiple points Monday night as their six goals matched a season high.

"When we're skating and we're playing with a really good pace, we're tough to contain against any team," Staal said, "and we'll look to do that again."

"To me it's been a little bit of a continuation of what we've been building through since the Calgary game" on Jan. 2, said David Quinn. "Hopefully the carryover is, we continue to believe in the way we need to play to have success."

The Red Wings caught the brunt of the Islanders' carryover on Tuesday night, when the Isles had seven different goal-scorers and scored eight goals for the first time in four years. Jordan Eberle scored 3:23 into that one, a day after putting the Islanders ahead after just 18 seconds at the Garden. Eberle finished with a goal and an assist for the second straight night.

Tuesday's game was 6-1 after just 22:40 had been played, an onslaught that included a pair from Brock Nelson -- giving him three goals in the last two games and a team-leading 18 this season -- and was capped by the first NHL goal for defenseman Noah Dobson, the Isles' first-round (12th overall) pick in 2018.

The win was just the Islanders' second in their last seven home games (2-3-2).

Monday's opener of this three-game mini-series included 88 minutes in penalties -- 40 of those coming with 5:09 left, when both Kreider and Tony DeAngelo confronted Nelson for a center-ice hit on Mika Zibanejad. Both teams sound confident that two days in between and a change in venue will do nothing to turn down the temperature on Thursday's game.

"That's why it's a rivalry and that's why the games get so heated, because it means that much more to us in the room and to our fans," Staal said. "We get to go back to the Coliseum and play in a really good environment. Not a lot of guys in this room know what that's like, and I think they should be excited for it."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
21 Howden -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
38 Haley -- 14 McKegg -- 42 Smith

76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox

40 Georgiev
30 Lundqvist

ISLANDERS
27 Lee -- 13 Barzal -- 7 Eberle
18 Beauvillier -- 29 Nelson -- 10 Brassard
28 Dal Colle -- 12 Bailey -- 14 Kuhnhackl
17 Martin -- 53 Cizikas -- 21 Koivula

2 Leddy -- 6 Pulock
25 D. Toews -- 24 Mayfield
8 Dobson -- 55 Boychuk

40 Varlamov
1 Greiss


NUMBERS GAME

The Rangers have scored five or more goals in seven of their last 11 games. They have averaged exactly four goals per game in those 11, dating to Dec. 22, second-most in the League.

The Rangers are 9-1 in their last 10 games within the Metropolitan Division.

Adam Fox has nine points in the last seven games, and he and his defense partner, Ryan Lindgren, are a combined plus-9 in the last three matches.

Both Jesper Fast and Brady Skjei picked up their 20th point of the season in Monday's win, making it 10 different Rangers with 20 or more points. Only five other NHL teams have that many. 

The Rangers have won 54.5 percent of faceoffs over the last four games.

The Islanders' win over the Detroit on Tuesday was the first time they have scored eight goals since an 8-1 win over Edmonton on Feb. 7, 2016, at Barclays Center. It was their first eight-spot at Nassau Coliseum since a 9-3 rout of Pittsburgh on Feb. 11, 2011, in which then-Islander Micheal Haley scored his first NHL goal.

The Isles are 24-1-2 this season, and 62-4-4 under Barry Trotz, when they score at least three goals.

Since a franchise-record 17-game points streak (15-0-2) from Oct. 12 to Nov. 23, the Isles are 12-10-2.

Jordan Eberle has a goal and an assist in each of the last two games; his assist Tuesday against Detroit was his 500th NHL point.

Following a 7-0-1 December, Semyon Varlamov is 1-3-1/.2.74/.915 in January, including Monday's six Ranger goals on 35 shots.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chris Kreider has three points (two goals) in four Coliseum games in his career. His goal second-period goal on Monday put the Rangers ahead for good, and was his eighth goal in 13 games.

The last time these teams met at Nassau Coliseum, on March 10, 2015, Anders Lee was the Islanders' goal scorer in a 2-1 Ranger win. The Isles' captain has three goals in his last five games, and 7-4--11 in 21 career games against the Blueshirts.

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