When they visit the Penguins tonight, the Islanders know they can finally overtake the Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division. Locked in a tight battle for home ice in a potential first round match-up 22 years in the making, Brooklyn is on the heels of their close Manhattan rival.
After pulling off a stunning come from behind 3-2 win over the Panthers last night with three consecutive goals in a 5:31 span highlighted by Clutter Clutch, Cal Clutterbuck’s game-winner with 1:39 left in regulation, the Islanders trail the Rangers by a point. They make up the second game of three with face off set for 7 PM at Console Energy Center. The Rangers have 85 points with 13 games remaining. The Isles have 84 with 15 left. The Pens have 80 with 14 remaining. A Pens win in regulation would further complicate things. But an Islander one would keep Pittsburgh at distance in the wildcard.
Keep in mind that the first tiebreaker is regulation/overtime wins (ROW). Eventually, all three teams will finish with 82 games played. Right now, the Rangers hold the edge with 36 ROW while the Isles and Pens each have 34. Even though they have won all three match-ups so far over the Rangers, the Islanders know they must beat them out on the first tiebreaker to gain home ice advantage. They are 21-8-4 in their first season at Barclays Center. The Rangers also boast a strong home mark going 23-8-3 at MSG. The Pens are 20-10-4 at home. Even though home ice might not mean a whole lot if it’s Islanders and Rangers, a potential seventh game in a hostile environment could loom large. The final regular season meeting is April 7 at The Garden.
After tonight, the Isles and Pens will see each other once more when Pittsburgh visits Brooklyn on April 2. Thus far, they’ve split the first two with each prevailing on home ice. The Pens won the first match 5-2 on 1/2 and the Isles prevailed 2-1 on 3/8. The Rangers have lost two of three to the Pens with one game left when they meet on 3/27 at MSG. Each match will help determine where the teams finish in the Metro.
For the Islanders, it’s the start of a three-game road trip. They also will visit Nashville Thursday and conclude the trip in Dallas Saturday. With it being the second of a back-to-back, the Isles will call on Jean-Francois Berube to make the start versus the Pens. Thomas Greiss gets the night off.
“Back to back games,” coach Jack Capuano told the Isles website. “He is going to play down the stretch, he’s going to get a great opportunity here tonight against a really good hockey team.”
That won’t be the only change. Capuano has decided to switch things up for tonight. Forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Steve Bernier are in for Brock Nelson and Shane Prince. Brian Strait replaces Ryan Pulock on defense.
“I’m not look at those guys sitting because of their effort or the way they’ve played,” he said. “It’s a tough decision to make, they’ve played well. At the end of the day it was more or less getting fresh legs in the lineup. Come the next game, those guys will probably be back in.”
Here are the Islanders Lines: