The Rangers and Islanders, set to face off in Brooklyn Thursday, seem to be miles apart. The Blueshirts are a legitimate contender and the Islanders an inconsistent work in progress. Yet, thanks to the NHL’s playoff format, two teams on seemingly divergent paths may enter the postseason as the two wild cards.
The Rangers (37-18-1) have surged in February, going a perfect 6-0 punctuated by a 3-2 road win against John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets on Monday. The offense has been prolific during this latest winning streak, averaging 3.5 goals, with 11 players registering goals in the past six games. First-line right winger Michael Grabner leads the Blueshirts with four in the last five games.
More importantly, Henrik Lundqvist has looked rejuvenated in the net and finished with a season-high 43 saves Feb. 7 against the Ducks.
Meanwhile, with a midseason coaching replacement and their future arena arrangements in jeopardy, the Islanders (25-20-10) are still struggling to find their rhythm. Though interim head coach Doug Weight has posted an 8-3-2 record in his first few weeks with the team, the Islanders have been shaky in February, going 3-3-1. Their most recent loss, a 7-1 drubbing courtesy of the wild card-contending Maple Leafs on Tuesday, was their worst of the season and the second time they’ve given up seven goals this year.
“As much as it’s just one loss, that’s a humbling loss, that’s [a butt]-kicking, I’m sorry,” Weight told NHL.com’s Dave McCarthy.
But even with the differing trends between New York’s two hockey franchises, technically speaking, they’re in similar situations. Due to the ultracompetitive Metropolitan Division, the Rangers are currently locked in a tight battle with the Blue Jackets and Penguins for the final two division playoff spots, with the odd team out likely guaranteed the first wild card slot. The Rangers’ 75 points would be good enough for first place in the Atlantic Division.
While the Islanders have no hopes for anything but a wild card, their sporadic winning streaks have kept them near the top of a crowded field vying for the other wild card. With 27 games remaining, the Islanders sit within points of a playoff berth.