The 2017-18 season has been a downright disaster for the New York Rangers. The only saving grace is in the hope that they change their luck against crosstown rival, the New York Islanders. Circle Apr. 5 on your calendar because if the Rangers could muster a victory at the Barclays Center, it would put a smile on the faces of those who have suffered through this frustrating campaign.
This crosstown rivalry has been one-sided far too long as the Islanders current six-game winning streak has created separation between themselves and their arch-rival. By any measure, the Rangers have woefully played below expectations, which has plagued them recently in one of the NHL’s marquee matchups.
Lines Drawn in Islanders/Rangers Rivalry
The Islanders/Rangers rivalry holds a special place for hockey fans in the Tri-State area as the atmosphere inside each team’s arena cannot be matched by another professional sporting event. The intensity on the ice can be felt by all from the National Anthem until the final buzzer has sounded. No motivation is needed on this night.
At times, the animosity runs deeper within the fan bases than the players on the ice as the hatred is as strong as ever. Often, it will divide households, ends friendships and force marriages into counseling. Neither side is comfortable inside the confines of the other’s building as screaming obscenities towards one another becomes the norm rather quickly.
The Madison Square Garden faithful is more boisterous than their counterparts as they love to create chants that ring throughout the arena on game night. One of the more popular chants is “Potvin Sucks” that began after Islanders’ Hall-of-Fame defenseman Denis Potvin broke Rangers center Ulf Nilsson’s ankle on a hard check in a 1979 regular season game. Many witnesses felt Nilsson’s skate caught in a crevice on the ice, which forced all of his body weight on the vulnerable leg that gave away immediately upon impact of the hit. However, no one in the MSG blue seats are buying this explanation and the chant lives on 30 years after Potvin’s retirement.
A Brief History of the Rivalry
Historically, the Islanders current winning streak against the Rangers have brought them closer in the all-time regular season head-to-head matchup, which the Blueshirts lead by a 125-112-19 mark. However, they hold the advantage in postseason meetings with a 20-19 record. The margin of error seems to be very minuscule, with each side suffering heartbreaking defeats, and that trend doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.
The first meetings between these two organizations were anything but competitive. In fact, some have characterized those contests as being a farce because the Islanders were an expansion franchise and no match for the Rangers. It took them two seasons before recording their first win against the Blueshirts.
The first monumental moment of the rivalry came in the 1974 Stanley Cup playoffs as the upstart Islanders eliminated the Rangers in their first postseason appearance. In the 1979 playoffs, the Rangers upset the heavy-favorite Islanders to earn a Stanley Cup appearance against the Montreal Canadiens. The only final deciding playoff game between these two combatants was a memorable contest. It was Game 5 in the first round of the 1984 playoffs as the Islanders escaped elimination with an overtime victory over the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum. All of these events ignited the hatred towards the other side in this rivalry, which remains today because the mindset has been handed down from generation-to-generation.
Where the Rangers Go from Here
The Rangers are on the road to reshaping their roster into a young, fast-skating team, but if they’re going to get better, then they must become more competitive in this rivalry. It’s an important first hurdle in the rebuilding process because it shows progress has been gained after dismantling the roster at the trade deadline.
Yes, upgrades will be made this offseason to strengthen the core of the lineup, but the Rangers must show a solid foundation has already been put in place. This inexperienced roster cannot fold under the pressure of playing in the intense environment like an Islanders-Rangers game. A victory at the Barclays Center offers the fans some hope that the organization has changed the narrative in hockey’s most passionate rivalry.
Securing bragging rights may not be achievable just yet because the Rangers do not have a pulse in the series. But, they can begin on the road to ending the Islanders dominance and gain the upper hand in this rivalry.
All it takes is one victory in Brooklyn to get the ball (err puck) moving.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy