In most cases, an Islanders vs Rangers exhibition game isn’t really that big a deal. They generally meet twice during the pre-season and like most exhibition games, there isn’t that same intensity as a regular season game aside from maybe some fights that would be a reason for the fans to get excited. But on Wednesday night, the Islanders/Rangers rivalry enters a new chapter and for an exhibition game, it could very well resemble a regular season clash between the two rivals.
Before the Islanders begin their best of five Stanley Cup Qualifier against the Florida Panthers on Saturday in Toronto, they will meet the Rangers in an exhibition game at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday night at 8pm and there could be a little extra juice for this contest as it will be the only exhibition game before the post-season begins.
And after a few weeks of training camp and intra-squad scrimmages, the Islanders are just happy to be facing off against someone other than themselves.
“I think they’re excited about that opportunity and against a traditional rival such as the Rangers only heightens the intensity and the preparation for your team,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “I think the NHL has done a really good job putting some of the regional rivals against each other in these exhibition games. I think that gets the players to the next level emotionally.”
In addition to Wednesday’s Islanders/Rangers game, there are some other juicy exhibition matchups starting on Tuesday with Flyers vs Penguins, Maple Leafs vs Canadiens and Flames vs Oilers. Then on Wednesday, the Lightning will battle the Panthers and the Blackhawks take on the Blues.
It’s a great way to get the teams ready for the playoff grind and for the Islanders, they just want to get on the ice and hit someone that’s not wearing orange, white and blue…that is unless they meet the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.
“You can do as many intra-squad scrimmages as you want,” said right wing Jordan Eberle. “We had some heated moments in ours for sure but at the same time you’re not finishing checks 100 percent. You get the puck in the slot and sometimes you double-clutch it because you don’t want to hit your teammate so it will be nice to get out there against a different opponent and definitely ramp it up another ten percent and clean things up a little bit.”
The coronavirus forced the NHL to suspend their season back in March, but 24 teams have arrived in their respective hub cities in Canada to resume the campaign by going straight to the post-season. The Eastern Conference playoffs will be in Toronto while Edmonton will host the Western Conference Playoffs. The top four teams in each conference will play for seeding while the remaining eight teams in conference will square off to determine the sixteen-team field for the traditional first round of the playoffs.
Islanders goalies Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov are both expected to play against the Rangers and that will make it look like your typical pre-season game. But aside from that, it’s basically going to be the varsity for both teams and that could mean something that resembles a regular season game.
“I don’t think necessarily that we’re going to be taking it like a playoff game,” said center Mat Barzal, the Islanders’ leading scorer with 19 goals and 41 assists for 60 points during the regular season. “We’re kind of lucky to have one exhibition game where we can just see where we’re at and clean things up quickly. The Rangers have their eyes set on Carolina and we have out eyes set on Florida. I think it’s going to be a great warmup game and I know the fans are probably looking forward to it.”
During their storied rivalry, the Islanders and Rangers have met at Nassau Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, Barlcays Center and an outdoor game at Yankee Stadium. For the last few years, the Isles have also hosted pre-season games against the Blueshirts in Bridgeport, Connecticut where the Islanders AHL affiliate plays. But on Wednesday night, the rivals will meet on neutral ice in Toronto as they prepare for the playoffs in the NHL’s bubble.
With no spectators in the building, the traditional chants from both fan bases will have to take place at home while watching on television.