It really hasn't been since the 90s that a meeting between New York's two hockey clubs was something of a must-see event, but with every other New York sports team seemingly out of the picture, the Rangers and Islanders will take center stage. The Isles sit atop the Metropolitan Division and have been one of the best teams in the league through much of the first half of the season.
The Rangers have gotten hot, winning 13 of their last 14 games. It is the first time since 1973 that the Blueshirts have accomplished such a feat. Equally as impressive is the fact that the Rangers are the first team since the 1997-98 Montreal Canadiens to defeat the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers all on the road.
"You look at the records the last four weeks in the National Hockey League," Islanders' Head Coach Jack Capuano said. "[The Rangers] have the best record. It's a good hockey club. A lot of experience, Stanley Cup Final last year. We just have to go in there with the mindset of playing the way that we have been playing. We can't change the way we play. We have to manage the puck, play physical, play fast and, obviously, we're going to have to get some pucks and bodies to the net."
The Islanders are wrapping up a seven-game road trip that took them across western Canada before returning to the Metro to play divisional opponents in New Jersey and Columbus.
The trip had some ups and downs. The Islanders won the first two games against Winnipeg and Calgary, but dropped the next two in Edmonton and Vancouver. The losses coupled with several teams below the Islanders in the standings winning have made the Metro Division very tight.
Heading into a big game with the streaking Rangers, snapping a two-game losing streak with victories over New Jersey and Columbus was important for the Islanders.
"I think more than anything we're just happy with the way we rebounded," Matt Martin said from his stall at Islanders IceWorks in Syosset. "In western Canada, the last two games weren't great. We weren't playing very well. It wasn't that we lost games, it was how we lost them and how we came to play. In New Jersey we still didn't get off to a great start, but we found a way to win. I think in the Columbus game we got back playing the way we know how to play and can play."
Tuesday's clash on Broadway has already been labeled by Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault as a big game. "It's going to be a New York Classic," he told reporters at the Rangers practice facility in Westchester.
Brock Nelson certainly wouldn't disagree with Vigneault's assessment.
"I don't know if you maybe circle this one before, but now it being the next game and where we are at it's probably one of the biggest games so far," Nelson said. "It's going to be an exciting atmosphere, a fun game and we just have to come ready to play."