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Rangers Out-Tank Islanders in Uneventful Late Season Battle

Thursday night’s metropolitan division matchup between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders was unlike most other recent meetings between the two rivals. The tilt lacked intensity and physicality, as both squads are playing for nothing more than pride and draft lottery odds. The Blueshirts and Isles sit beside one another in the standings, with both groups facing the possibility of finishing anywhere between 22nd and 25th in the NHL’s leaderboard. The Isles triumphed by a score of 2-1, but in reality, the Rangers were last night’s real winners.

Kevin Hayes opened the scoring 15:35 after puck-drop. On the powerplay, Brady Skjei fired a shot that flew wide, but the puck fortuitously caromed off the boards right back towards the front of the net, where Hayes batted it past Halak. Hayes has been on a tear since early March. He has a career-high 25 goals on the campaign which is eight more than his previous best, and has 22 points in his last 25 games. Now that Hayes has 25 markers, he and Mika Zibanejad have become the first pair of Rangers centers to score 25 or more goals in a season since Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky did so back in the 1996-1997 season. Alain Vigneault’s team undoubtedly misses the 56 points Derek Stepan has posted in Arizona, but Zibanejad and Hayes have performed admirably in replacing him.

Early in the middle period Thomas Hickey knotted the score, as his point-shot made its way through tons of traffic in front and eluded Ondrej Pavelec. Matt Barzal added a helper, giving him 10 points in four meetings with the Rangers this year. Less than three minutes later, Anthony Beauvillier would score what turned out to be the final tally of the night. After the Blueshirts’ turnover in their own end, Beauvillier finished off a give-and-go between he and Andrew Ladd to give the Isles the lead.

With their triumph on Thursday, the Islanders have swept this season’s series with the Rangers. The Boys in Blue remain winless at the Barclays Center, and continue to struggle to solve Jaroslav Halak, as he boasts a 9-1 record in his last 10 starts against New York. As for their struggles in Brooklyn, the Blueshirts now have been unsuccessful in six outings at the Barclays Center, and possess 1 victory in their last 12 match-ups with their crosstown foe. Maybe the addition of John Tavares could help tilt the scales in the Rangers’ favor, as he has most likely played his last home game as an Islander and will hit unrestricted free agency this summer. It’s certainly unlikely; however, Jeff Gorton will have the cap space to give him as enticing an offer as anyone.

Prior to this season, the Rangers hadn’t missed the playoffs since 2010. They faced the Philadelphia Flyers in their regular season finale, and the game represented a battle in which the winners would get a chance to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup and the loser would be sent home packing. The clash came down to the shootout, where Olli Jokinen was stoned by Brian Boucher to end the Blueshirts’ campaign.

On Saturday the two teams will square off in Philly once again (3:00 PM, NBCSN), for a contest that will mark the final tilt of both squads’ regular seasons. When this nationally televised confrontation was scheduled, many hoped this year’s finale would be reminiscent of what we saw 8 years ago, and the people have gotten their wish. The Rangers will get the chance to avenge Jokinen’s failure and put a damper on Philly’s playoff aspirations. With a win in regulation against the Flyers and victories over Buffalo and Boston by the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia would be replaced by Florida as the holders of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. Likely to be coaching his final game on Saturday, Alain Vigneault and his staff will have the opportunity to go out with the ultimate bang. Putting aside his team’s tanking efforts and finishing off the season by handing a defeat to the enemy Flyers, would be the perfect conclusion to his noteworthy tenure on Broadway.

Brian Paget is on Twitter @BrianPaget17

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