Each year around this time, fans of teams already eliminated from the playoffs have the same old debate: Do you want a win/spoiler more, or are you kind of, in the privacy of your own home, not minding if a lottery-aiding loss should occur? Call it the Tanker's Paradox. But tonight there's an added wrinkle: The Islanders just spanked the Rangers, but that win is less of a real "spoiler" for the Isles if they also beat the Hurricanes, who have the best shot at yanking the 8th seed from the Rangers' hands. It's the Rangah Hatah's Paradox.
Hurricanes (37-30-10, 9th/E) @ Islanders (30-36-12, 13th) Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum 7 p.m. EDT | MSG+ | audio - WRHU 88.7 For Whom Wednesday was a Favor:Canes Country
I don't really care where you fall -- as long as you don't lecture unobnoxious others for feeling however they feel. Me? I'm pulling for an Isles OT win. But the Isles' history with the Hurricanes casts some shadow on that hope.
It's not just this series' record over the last several seasons (16-3-3 for Carolina), it's not just the fact the Canes have won all three meetings this season, and it's not the fact the Canes are good for one blowout of the Isles each year. It's more that the Islanders approach always falls right into the Hurricanes' hands (and Cam Ward's). Wednesday night, the Islanders jumped the Rangers pretty good, even though they fell behind 1-0, by using their speed and well-timed D pinches to keep the Rangers from ever pushing play the other way with sustained pressure.
But the Rangers know how to counteract the Islanders' speed -- they just never did it that night. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, know how to fight that speed (get pucks in deep is the theory) yet they also have considerable speed of their own for the counterpunch. Oh, and they have Cam Ward, as seen in the figures from the first three meetings:
Making things worse? Frans Nielsen (head), Ty Wishart (left shoulder) and Jack Hillen (right shoulder) are all day-to-day, adding yet another chapter to the Islander injury woes. The Islanders have the most man-games lost to injury in the league; tonight's opponent has the fewest.
If Wishart and/or Hillen can't go tonight, that presents real problems. There are no healthy pro options down in Bridgeport.
[LINEUP UPDATES via Isles: Wishart is skating at the morning skate; Hillen and Nielsen are not. Josh Bailey will center Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo; Blake Comeau will center Matt Martin and Jesse Joensuu. Al Montoya gets the start. Katie Strang @KatieStrangNYI quotes Comeau as saying he hasn't played center since junior, but he takes faceoffs in practice a lot.]
The good news: the result of each meeting has been closer than the previous one, and the most recent one was actually a 3-2 OT loss that Ward frankly stole outright, including his eight stops of Michael Grabner alone. Also, that meeting was Al Montoya's first appearance in this series.
For the Canes' part, I don't think there's anyway on earth they could "look past" this meeting, but they do have a big one looming tomorrow: A meeting with the 7th-seed Sabres, who like the Rangers have 87 points (but one game in hand).
Blake Comeau had 7 goals in March. Over the last four seasons, he has 52 goals total -- 19 of them in March (plus 3 more in April last year). This is why we call him March Blake Comeau, or MBC (credit: JPinVA, I think). Plus, that helps distinguish him 'round these parts from BC, the draft afficionado.
Just some food for thought: I know we're pleased with the Islanders having two 30-goal scorers, a 22-goal-scoring MBC, and another 30-goal threat in John Tavares. But the Coyotes, who have 96 points and are 4th in the West, have a leading goal scorer with just 19 goals (Shane Doan). They do have eight guys with goals in the high teens though. Plus defense and yearlong healthy goaltending. The Isles have allowed 31 more goals.
The Other End of the Standings: Both Florida and Ottawa have pulled within two points of the Isles with four games left.