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Tavares, Islanders look to continue mastery of Rangers
NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders know Thursday night will be their final home game of the season as well as the last time they call Barclays Center their sole home.
But the most important bit of information remains unknown, and will likely remain a mystery for almost three more months: Will Thursday night also be the final time John Tavares suits up at home for the Islanders?
An uncertain future will overshadow the waning days of a disappointing season Thursday night when the Islanders host the New York Rangers in a battle of teams playing out the string.
Both teams were off Wednesday after playing Tuesday. The host Islanders edged the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 while the visiting Rangers fell to the New Jersey Devils 5-2.
The local rivals will be playing for nothing more than pride and the opportunity to avoid finishing in last place Thursday, when the Rangers (34-37-9) will take the ice one point ahead of the Islanders. This is only the sixth time since the Islanders (33-37-10) joined the NHL in 1972-73 that both teams will miss the playoffs.
Soon, the Islanders will find out if failing to reach the postseason for the second straight season and the short-term uncertainty of their arena situation are enough to drive Tavares away from the only team for which he's played.
Tavares, whom the Islanders selected with the first overall pick of the 2009 draft, is scheduled to reach free agency July 1. And while his attendance at press conferences earlier this season announcing the Islanders' plans to build a new arena on Long Island and to split the next three seasons between Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum (the team's old home) could be construed as good signs for his future in New York, he has offered no hints one way or the other as the season has spiraled downward.
The Islanders are just 8-17-5 since the All-Star break and have just one winning streak of longer than two games since November.
"Obviously, the season will end on Saturday," Tavares told reporters following practice Wednesday. "I want to go about it the right way and be the best captain I can be. When the time is right, it will all come to fruition and it will all be over at the same time. It's gotten to this point now. I can't say how it's going to go going forward."
The Rangers, who are winless in five games (0-4-1) at Barclays Center, will not be sad to see the Islanders exit Brooklyn. Lately, the Islanders have thrived against the Rangers regardless of locale, going 8-1-2 against their closest rival since the start of the 2015-16 season.
"Obviously, we haven't had a lot of success against the Islanders," head coach Alain Vigneault told Newsday following practice Wednesday. "It'd be good for us to change that, and we're getting an opportunity tomorrow to do that."
Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak will likely get a chance to continue his mastery against the Rangers, who will start backup netminder Ondrej Pavelec.
Halak has sat the last three games -- his most recent action was March 27, when he recorded 33 saves and earned the win in a 4-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators -- but is 17-7-0 in 25 career games against the Rangers, including 3-0-0 this year and 10-3-0 since joining the Islanders prior to the 2014-15 season.
Pavelec hasn't played since last Friday, when he took the defeat after recording 43 saves in the Rangers' 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is 4-8-3 in 15 career games against the Islanders.
Updated April 5, 2018
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