By Sean Hartnett
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Tuesday night will mark the final regular-season epic between the Rangers and Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. Depending on playoff seeding and postseason advancement, there’s a chance this will be the last time the “Battle of New York” is played at the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike.
“It’s not my favorite building in the world,” Rangers winger Tanner Glass said. “It’s old. The accommodations for the visiting team are probably one of the worst in the league. I kind of like it that way. It’s a little bit gritty. You feel like you’re kind of part of that old dynasty they had there. It’s authentic, I guess.”
Expect fireworks. These games are always packed with bad blood and full-throttle intensity.
“It’s our last trip there for the regular season, obviously everyone knows this rivalry being what it is,” Glass said. “We’re so close in the standings, and they’re the team we’re looking to catch. I’d imagine it will be feisty. I like those kind of games. They’re physical, they have a bit of bite to them. It suits my game well. I enjoy them.”
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault understands what’s at stake. If the Rangers come away with a regulation win on Tuesday, they will be a point behind the division-leading Isles with four games in hand.
“At the end of the day when you analyze it, it’s two teams that are fighting to get a check mark by their name to get into the playoffs,” Vigneault said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. After that, they’re both going to fight for positioning for the playoffs.”
Newly acquired defenseman Keith Yandle is excited to get his first taste of the rivalry in a Rangers sweater.
“The rivalry is obviously huge and dates back a long time,” Yandle said. “The guys have been talking this week about how much fun it is to play there. It’s one of those rinks where the fans are right on top of you. With a Rangers jersey on, it brings (another) aspect. It’s something I didn’t have in the West. The West lacked the big-time rivalries you have in the East. As a professional athlete, you get excited to play in those type of games.”
Cam Talbot was asked if he could share a PG-version of the venomous trash talk he received from Isles fans.
“I don’t even know if you can edit it,” Talbot said. “So, I’ll just leave it at that.”
Rangers winger Kevin Hayes knows that the old building is going to be brimming with noise.
“The atmosphere is pretty electric there,” Hayes said. “I’m sure it’s going to be buzzing.”
MVP CANDIDATES TAVARES AND NASH TAKE CENTER STAGE
Islanders captain John Tavares couldn’t enter Tuesday’s game any hotter. Tavares has collected seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last three games. The 24-year-old center added to his Hart Trophy credentials during Monday night’s comeback victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Tavares scored the game-winning overtime goal on superb solo effort with 21.8 seconds left on the clock.
Tavares leads all NHL skaters in the past 10 calendar days, having registered nine points (four goals, five assists) in six games. His 72 points (33 goals, 39 assists) are three points ahead of Washington Capitals teammates Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
The Rangers have their own MVP candidate in Rick Nash, but lately the 30-year-old’s production has taken a dip. Nash has only recorded one goal and one assist in the last six games. He has fallen six goals behind Ovechkin (44 goals) in the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy.
Despite his recent scoring struggles, Nash has continued to be an energetic player in all areas of the ice. He constantly breaks up opposition attacks and excels in the transition game. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Nash break out against the Isles. Since joining the Rangers, Nash has collected eight points (five goals, three assists) in 12 games against the Islanders.
RANGERS LOOKING TO SLOW DOWN ISLES’ FAST STARTS
Vigneault knows the Rangers have shown a tendency to put themselves behind the eight ball by not matching the Isles’ intensity in the opening minutes.
“Their starts have been way better than ours in all four games, there’s no doubt,” Vigneault said. “That’s one area that we talked about prior to Game 3, prior to Game 4. It didn’t work out exactly like we anticipated. We’re gonna try again tomorrow. They’ve jumped on us. Give them full marks.”
Captain Ryan McDonagh knows that the Rangers must come out of the gate with the right mentality and approach.
“The starts of games have been so important,” McDonagh said. “The teams come out with such fire. If you’re not playing with the right speed, the right approach, a little edge to your game, you’re going to have a tough chance to win the game. You don’t have to go running around and just trying to hit guys – but you’ve got to be able to take a hit, give a hit and slow down the pace a bit so you can make plays.”
SHEPPARD OUT, GLASS IN
Vigneault confirmed that Glass will replace recently acquired forward James Sheppard as fourth line left wing. Glass skated alongside center Dominic Moore and right wing Jesper Fast at Monday’s practice.
“Tanner was playing well before, I wanted to take look Sheppard,” Vigneault said. “We’ve got 13 healthy forwards, they’re all playing well. I just think it’s time for Tanner to come back in.”
Sheppard fared well in first two games as a Ranger in road games against the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, appearing to be a solidifying piece on the Rangers’ fourth line while Glass was scratched.
The news of Glass taking Sheppard’s place on the fourth line triggered an immediate reaction on social media. Rangers fans vented their anger at Vigneault’s decision to swap out Sheppard for Glass.
Vigneault has praised Glass’ rugged game and his ability to be a deterrent to opposition physicality.
“I think Tanner has played well in his role,” Vigneault said on March 3. “The dynamics that he brings to our group, I would say the last little while he has played the exact type of hockey we expected; the physicality, being a deterrent against the other team’s physicality. I think he’s done that.”
Follow Sean on Twitter – @HartnettHockey.