Well, I don't think any of us saw this coming. Seriously, raise your hand if you expected this New York Rangers matchup with the New York Islanders to be this significant back before the season began. No one? Don't worry, you're not alone.
The Rangers had much higher expectations back in January. And after two mega-deals at the deadline, it seems as though January was years ago, not months.
But here we are. The Rangers and Islanders are battling it out in a tilt on Long Island where there hasn't been a truly meaningful game played between the two sides since 2006. Tonight that changes. And the Rangers are the team that desperately needs the two points on the table, not the Islanders.
The Rangers did a good job of grabbing two points against the Toronto Maple Leafs back on Wednesday, and with the long two-day of rest, they should be fresh and ready to come roaring out of the gate against the Islanders team that's gone 8-1-1 in their last 10. You saw that correctly, 8-1-1.
The New York Rangers are currently in 8th place with 44 points and 8 games remaining. The Islanders are in 7th place with 46 points and 7 games remaning. A win tonight (in regulation) would give the Rangers a boost into 7th place since -- despite being tied in points with the Islanders -- the Rangers would hold the winning percentage tiebreaker. That would also put the Rangers two points behind sixth-place Ottawa (level in games played).
A loss would allow the Winnipeg Jets to pass the Rangers with just a single point, but the Jets have only six games left, so the Rangers would have room to make that gap up. The New Jersey Devils (40 points with seven games remaning) also would have a chance to get closer to the Rangers.
Obviously the easiest way into the top-eight would be to win, and then keep winning. If the Rangers go 5-3 in their final eight games they would have 54 points. Would that be enough to get them into the playoffs? The expected cut-off line is around 55 points so maybe, but then again maybe not.
A big difference is who you get those wins against. Beating a team like the Islanders not only levels you with them it actually vaults you in front of them. For the Rangers, they can't be thinking about the playoffs or about their next game, they have to be thinking about their matchup with the Islanders tonight and getting these two points before they start worrying about the next two points.
This is basically playoff hockey.
Which is good since the playoffs aren't a guarantee this year.