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Rangers, Islanders set for exhibition Wednesday ahead of NHL Qualifiers

Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since March, there will be New York professional hockey teams playing on Wednesday.

And they’ll be playing each other.

The Islanders and Rangers will face-off in an exhibition game (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) ahead of the NHL’s qualifying postseason series that begins on Aug. 1 to shake off some final semblances of rust that developed from a four-month hiatus.

NHL play was suspended on March 12 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

While the Islanders prepare to meet the Florida Panthers, the Rangers face the Carolina Hurricanes in their respective qualifying series. But on Wednesday, there are some things to keep an eye on as they prepare for playoff hockey.

For the first time in this calendar year, the Islanders have a fully healthy squad to bring into the postseason.

Their usually-staunch defense — which is their identity under head coach Barry Trotz — had been in disarray after the freak Achilles injury suffered by Adam Pelech while Johnny Boychuk experienced the terrifying scenario of being cut near the eye area with a skate blade. The injury required 90 stitches.

Both defensemen are back to bring organization back to the Islanders’ defense, which is the reason why they recorded over 100 points last season and got off to a red-hot start in 2019-20.

On the offensive side of the puck, fourth-line center and team engine Casey Cizikas is back from being cut in the leg by a skate blade. He restores the Islanders’ impressive center depth, which also features Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and the newly-acquired J.G. Pageau — who has yet to win in an Islanders uniform since being acquired from the Ottawa Senators.

The Islanders’ offense has been suspect over the last two years, but a team at full-strength could exceed expectations when it comes to putting the puck in the net. It will start against the Rangers Wednesday.

From the moment the NHL gave the green light for play to resume, the first question directed toward the Rangers was who will be the starting goaltender.

Head coach David Quinn has the great problem of having to juggle three goaltenders that have either contributed to the Rangers’ cause or a track record of success.

Veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was used minimally between January and March but is a franchise legend who holds plenty of playoff experience and owns the Hurricanes throughout his career. Meanwhile, rookie Igor Shesterkin electrified the organization upon his arrival to the NHL in January.

Alexandar Georgiev served largely as Shesterkin’s backup down the stretch but had battled inconsistencies.

The problem is that the Rangers can only dress two goaltenders, per NHL rules, for Wednesday’s exhibition game.

Considering Georgiev has skated with the extras through recent practices, he is expected to be the odd-man-out, which means Quinn could be deciding between Lundqvist and Shesterkin for No. 1 goaltending duties.

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