After dropping the Devils 7-3 on Sunday, the Rangers (28-23-3, 59 pts) look for a clean sweep of their outdoor Stadium Series games this week at Yankee Stadium when they skate against the Islanders (21-26-8, 50 pts) on Wednesday night. In similar fashion to how they approached their game against the Devils, the Rangers will be taking in the incredible unique atmosphere again at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, while also focused squarely on exiting the Big Ballyard in the South Bronx with an important two points against a bitter division rival.
Of course bitter will likely also describe the frigid weather conditions that are expected Wednesday night. On Sunday afternoon the Rangers and Devils played in temperatures that hovered near 20 degrees, and took part in a light, yet steady, second period snowfall. Wednesday night it could be ten degrees or so colder, though the players have said that temperature is less a factor than wind or heavy snow. Dan Girardi pointed out after practice Tuesday that the Rangers may not have the advantage most believe they do just because they have already played outdoors at Yankee Stadium and the Islanders have not, because conditions and lighting could be far different in the evening than they were in the daytime.
Sunday's victory surely will go down as one of the most memorable for the Rangers in 2013-14. After falling behind 3-1 in the first period, the Rangers reeled off six unanswered goals to finish with an NHL outdoor game's record seven goals, while also setting a league outdoor mark by scoring four times in the second period. In the process the Rangers drove Martin Brodeur from the nets after 40 minutes of play, scoring six times on 21 shots against him. It was the first time in 100 career games against the Rangers that Brodeur had allowed more than five goals.
Derek Stepan became the first player to score a penalty shot goal in an NHL outdoor game, while Marc Staal and Anton Stralman set outdoor games' record for best plus/minus rating at +4 each. Mats Zuccarello scored twice in his first-ever outdoor game--as he was one of seven Rangers to be playing for the first time outdoors in the National Hockey League.
In the end, though, the most important number was two...as in two points secured by the Rangers with their victory. Those points helped solidify their standing in second place in the Metrpopolitan Division, just as another two points Wednesday will do the same. The Rangers have won four of their last six games entering play Wednesday, and are 12-5-1 in their last 18 games dating to December 22. In their last ten contests they have allowed more than two goals only twice and have scored four or more four times. The seven goals scored Sunday equaled New York's single-game high this season, originally set on January 4th in Toronto.
Since these Stadium Series games are considered "road" games for the Rangers, with both the Devils and Islanders the designated "home" team, Sunday's victory was the 16th this season achieved by the Rangers away from Madison Square Garden. Those 16 road wins by the Rangers are tops in the Eastern Conference, and are tied for third most in the entire NHL, two in back of the Anaheim Ducks who have 18 road victories already this year.
The Islanders enter their first-ever outdoor game having lost three in a row---two in regulation, one in the shootout. In that span they have surrendered 15 goals, including six twice. Their most recent game on Monday was a 6-3 loss to the Bruins, a contest which was tied 3-3 until the Islanders imploded on home ice. Interestingly the Isles have scored ten goals in their last three games, yet have lost each one.
Perhaps the goals against will become a bit more respectable now that Evgeni Nabokov is back off Injured Reserve and likely back in goal starting Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. However key defenseman Travis Hamonic replaced Nabokov on the IR, and the Islanders defense corps has struggled in its own end all year long. The Islanders have surrendered 185 goals this season, far and away the most in the Eastern Conference--and second most in the NHL--a major reason why this offensively-gifted team sits in last place in the Metropolitan Division.
Of course the Islanders are an epxlosive team offensively--led by John Tavares who is second in the league with 64 points and Kyle Okposo who is fifth with 57. And it is a given that they always play passionately against the Rangers no matter their record. In fact their most recent win was a come-from-behind 5-3 victory over the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden last Tuesday. That win capped the Islanders best run of the season, in which they won 10 of 13 games.