By Matt Calamia
What a difference a month makes.
When the Rangers and Islanders met on Dec. 20, the two teams were struggling. The Blueshirts entered the contest with one win in their last six games, while the Islanders had just one win in 14 games.
Fast forward to tonight's contest, which has both teams surging. The Rangers are 7-2-1 in their last 10, while the Islanders aren’t far behind with a record of 7-3 over the same span. While the games between these two teams are always intense, the players are trying to keep emotions in check as the stakes are higher with both teams battling for playoff position.
“I think the rivalry — the importance comes down to the two points in the standings that are crucial for teams that are division rivals,” Dominic Moore told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “That’s where the rivalry comes in most importantly … You focus on meeting the challenge of the game at hand and doing the things we know we need to do to have success as a team, which is more of a focus on ourselves.”
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who scored in the Rangers’ 3-2 win over the Islanders on Oct. 29 at Nassau Coliseum, echoed Moore’s feelings on how the team must focus just on the two points at stake.
“Obviously there is a heated rivalry and intensity picks up,” McDonagh said. “I expect nothing different tonight. I think our main purpose isn’t just to win the game because we’re playing the Islanders; We’re trying to win the game because we need the two points.”
To add a wrinkle to things, the Rangers and Islanders will meet three times between now and the end of the month, including next Wednesday’s Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium.
“We’ve got this game here and a quick turnaround before the Stadium Series,” McDonagh added. “It should be intense all the way through.”
Islanders forward Matt Martin called games between the two squads “staple games,” and that both teams can gain momentum win a victory.
Like McDonagh, Martin said the grouping of the games over the next week and a half will certainly makes things interesting.
“It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere,” Martin told BlueshirtsUnited. “These two teams don’t like each other to begin with, let alone playing each other three times in 10 days during the season … Games against the Rangers are always intense. They’re a battle and I wouldn’t expect anything different.”