The New York Rangers have a new measuring stick:
The New York Islanders.
“To be the best you have to beat the best,” Rangers goalie Cam Talbot said ahead of tonight’s tilt, per the New York Post. “They’ve been the best team in the division and one of the best in the NHL.
“If we’re going to catch them, this is a game we need to win.”
The Isles, who head into tonight’s action atop in the Metropolitan Division, have owned the Rangers this year, winning all three matchups while outscoring the Blueshirts 13-4. As the four goals against suggests, Jaroslav Halak has played very well for the Isles over the course of their in-state dominance, which he has: Halak stopped a season-high 40 shots in a win at MSG in mid-October, then posted 40 more saves in a 4-1 win over the Rangers in late January.
(Halak also shut out the Blueshirts — 3-0, on the strength of 27 saves — prior to the All-Star break.)
If you’re looking for reasons to why the Isles have been so good against the Rangers this season, consider what Marc Staal had to say. The alternate captain suggested his club has lapsed into playing the Isles’ preferred style on occasion, and those lapses have caused the team to backfire.
“We’ve kind of played into their hands a little bit, and opened it up,” Staal explained, per the Post. “Normally we play a tight game, and get a lot of back pressure on the rush, but we haven’t played that way against them.
“We have to be ready from the start to play our game and not worry about their game.”
Given the two sides could very well meet in the playoffs, it’s imperative that the Rangers figure out how to beat the Isles or, at the least, give them more of a game than in the first three meetings of the season. Should the Blueshirts fail to figure it out tonight, they’ll only have one more crack at it — the two teams will meet one final time on Mar. 10, which will be the last-ever regular season game between the Rangers and Isles at Nassau.