Ask any New York Islander about their matchup against the hated Rangers tonight at MSG and they will tell you that this isn't just about a rivalry, it's about two points in the standings.
They will use the "we are still not eliminated from the playoff race" line, but on the inside, they would like nothing more than to deal their neighbors from the west a very big blow to their playoff chances.
While the Islanders are 11 points out of the seventh & eighth playoff spots in the eastern conference, they realize that barring a miracle finish to the regular season, they have only 12 game left to play in 2011.
That being said, they can have a major say as to who qualifies for the last two post season berths.
The Islanders have upcoming games remaining against the Rangers, Devils and Hurricanes. These games are essentially the playoffs for a team that is ties with the Bruins for the most points in the conference since the 16th of December.
The match-ups against these playoff hopefuls will at least serve as a barometer for next season.
It is important for the young core players of the franchise to get a feel of the playoff atmosphere in the NHL. There is no better way to get a gauge on that than to play a game in the heart of New York City, in the world's most famous arena, against a hated rival who is in a heated battle to make the playoffs.
There is also some personal intrigue involved in tonight's game as well.
PA Parenteau, a former Ranger who the Rangers decided to not sign after last season, has been a good story. Parenteau signed a contract over the summer with the Islanders; he has scored 15 goals to this point and has been a very effective on the power play.
Not too bad for a player who had his skating ability question by Rangers coach John Tortorella.
Parenteau has played against the Rangers earlier this season, but these last two games may mean just a little bit more.
There is one player who this game may mean more to than anybody: former first round pick of the Rangers, goaltender Al Montoya.
Montoya, who basically went through the blueshirts farm system since being drafted sixth overall in 2004, never got a real opportunity with the big club. To be fair, most in the Rangers organization, as well as their fan base, aren't thinking much about what could have been.
The Rangers are more than happy with Henrik Lundqvist. Personally, this has to be a shot at redemption for Montoya.
Montoya basically disappeared from the NHL map. He played a few games for the Phoenix Coyotes, but became their minor league goaltender and not much was heard from him since.
That is, until the Islanders had an extreme run of bad luck with injuries to five of their goalies.
GM Garth Snow went out and acquired Montoya from Phoenix for a sixth round draft pick. All he has done since becoming an Islander is put up a 7-2-3 record with a 2.09 GAA and a .926 save percentage.
Not too bad for a once declared NHL bust by many on the internet and around the league.
Tonight should be an interesting game for many reasons. When this game ends, the playoff picture will be a bit more clear for the Rangers.
The Islanders hope they will have played a major role in that.
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