Thank you, Lieutenant Gordon, for inspiring that title.
For the New York Rangers, from a standpoint of having an “easier road”, there shouldn’t really be too much concern over whether their second round opponent is the Washington Capitals or the New York Islanders. As the Presidents’ Trophy winners, they have to believe they can beat anybody, and every potential opponent is good, especially in the playoffs.
With that mindset, Rangers fans (and everyone else besides Caps fans) should be clamoring for a matchup with the Islanders.
We are Overdue
The Rangers and Islanders have not met in the playoffs since 1994, when the Blueshirts swept the Isles in the first round en route to their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years. For Rangers fans, defeating the hated Islanders again on the way to a championship would make everything that much sweeter. But for everyone else with a vested interest in hockey, this is a playoff matchup that needs to happen.
The Rangers-Islanders rivalry has not been optimally intense over the past 20-plus years, mainly because of the lack of playoff meetings and the rarity of both teams being contenders at the same time. There was some excitement in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season when both teams were pretty good, but the Isles squeaked in as an eight-seed and the Rangers had a somewhat disappointing campaign following a first-place Eastern Conference finish the previous year. The New York rivals did not end up meeting in the playoffs, as the Islanders fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, and the Rangers to the Boston Bruins in the second round.
That year, following an exciting meeting late in the regular season as Nassau Coliseum — which the Rangers won 1-0 in overtime — then-Rangers head coach John Tortorella delivered the harsh truth, as he so often does.
“I don’t think it’s a rivalry,” Tortorella said about the Rangers and Islanders. “I think we need a good, old-fashioned playoff series, and I think that’s where you create rivalries.”
This season, the Rangers took the Presidents’ Trophy with the NHL’s best regular-season record, while the Islanders rode high for most of the year and finished with 101 points, good for third place in the Metropolitan Division. With the Isles and Caps headed to a Game 7 in DC, and the winner getting to play the Rangers, we might just get that good, old-fashioned playoff series. The Islanders just have to do their part, as the Rangers have already dispatched the Penguins.
Rangers-Caps is Tired
Again, for the Rangers, there really is not a team — Islanders or Capitals — that presents a significantly more desirable opponent over the other. Both are good and present unique challenges. As Blueshirts defenseman Marc Staal said, “Pick your poison there.”
So why not go with the Islanders? The Rangers-Capitals playoff matchup is beyond old at this point anyway. The two teams have met in the postseason four times in the past six seasons before this one. The Caps, as heavy favorites in 2009 and 2011, won in seven and five games, respectively. The Rangers returned the favor with seven-game victories in 2012 and 2013.
The seven-game length of three of the four series certainly created some excitement, and sure, the Capitals have the star power of Alex Ovechkin
that NBC forcefully shoves down our throats every two seconds. A fifth series would also create somewhat of a “rubber match” when considering the previous four.
Seriously though, could these factors possibly make up for a Rangers-Islanders playoff series? No way. A Rangers-Isles matchup would obviously be great for New York, but it would be great for the whole league. It would be refreshing, there would still be star power (NBC could have a field day with Tavares vs. Lundqvist
, remaining consistent with sports media’s love of pushing individuals and not teams into the spotlight), and one of the best rivalries in hockey would be awakened from its relative slumber.
As hockey and the NHL continue to try to grow in popularity, a Rangers-Islanders matchup is the dream scenario at this time. It’s marketable for the casual fan (“RAH RAH Battle of New York!”) and for the serious fan who wants to see hard, intense, fast-paced, exciting hockey. It’s the scenario we both need and deserve after years and years of Rangers-Caps.