NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It might be snowing and freezing outside, but the atmosphere will almost certainly be heated Tuesday night inside Madison Square Garden.
That’s because the Rangers and Islanders are both rolling, and suddenly a rivalry that had lost a little bit over the last few years has some new-found juice.
The Rangers are 11-2-1 since losing at home to the Islanders, 5-3, on Dec. 20. The Islanders are 10-5-0 during that same span. The Blueshirts are currently in second place in the Metropolitan Division, while the Isles, following a brutal start, have climbed within five points of a wild card in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Tuesday night’s game is the first of three meetings over the next 10 days, which will include the teams’ outdoor game at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 29.
Despite all signs pointing to an even more competitive game than usual from these two teams, the Rangers will not have starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on Tuesday night. The team announced that the former Vezina Trophy winner is sick and rookie Cam Talbot will get the start instead.
Following a slow first 30 or so appearances, Lundqvist is 5-1 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .958 save percentage over his last six games and has been exceptional against the Islanders during his career, going 27-12-6 with a 2.12 GAA, .922 save percentage and five shutouts.
Talbot has taken advantage of his opportunities this season, going 10-3-0 with a 1.62 GAA and sterling .940 save percentage. His play has been so good he even, for a time, had some fans demanding the unthinkable — like benching Lundqvist.
“Every time we’ve used Cam this year he’s given us a chance to win, so our group is very confident when he’s in goal,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Islanders will be playing their third game in four nights. They are coming off a home-and-home split with Philadelphia, losing on the road Saturday before rallying for a 4-3 shootout win on Monday at Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders’ top line is among the best in the NHL, with John Tavares second in the league with 59 points, Kyle Okposo registering 49 points in 50 games and Thomas Vanek adding 34 points in 35 games since coming over in the trade that sent Matt Moulson and two high draft picks to Buffalo.
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