Growing up in a Long Island home with an old man who was raised to bleed Ranger blue, I had heard the stories of the Islanders dynasty of decades past. If you ask my father, he’ll probably still tell you that watching the Islanders win year after year between 1979 and 1983 resulted in unequivocally the worst years of his life. While I now like to think that is something of an exaggeration, it’s a true testament to the emotion that goes into this historic New York hockey rivalry.
Now, after many dark years at the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders are back on the rise for one last hurrah, and they are challenging the Rangers for New York’s hockey supremacy.
From the moment John Tavares was drafted in 2009, it was only a matter of time before the Islanders blossomed into a force to be reckoned with. Now, with their captain a budding superstar and a high quality supporting cast, it’s clear that the Islanders are for real.
The day Rangers fans have feared for years has finally arrived. The Islanders aren’t just competitive again, they are dangerously good.
Third Time not the Charm for the Blueshirts
The Rangers are a different team than the one that lost to the Islanders back in October. They are significantly healthier, they’ve found consistency in their game, and Henrik Lundqvist has been playing with more King-like tendencies. It’s been a recipe which has brought the team wins in 16 of their last 20. But for some reason, it has not been the case against the cross-town rivals.
The Rangers have now lost all three meetings this season with the guys from Uniondale, NY, with the two latest losses – both of which have been within the last two weeks – coming with added disappointment and frustration. For the first time in recent memory, both teams are serious contenders, but for the Blueshirts, they’ve seemed lost, and haven’t quite showed up for the most recent, highly anticipated contests.
In their previous date with the Islanders back on January 13, the Islanders strolled into Madison Square Garden and shutout the Rangers 3-0. Then on Tuesday, they continued to exert their New York hockey prominence with a convincing 4-1 victory at Nassau Coliseum.
While the Rangers did put 41 shots on goal, and outplayed the Islanders for portions of the game, they were ultimately unable to solve Jaroslav Halak, which is starting to become something of a trend.
Before Carl Hagelin finally put one past Halak with 10 seconds to play in regulation, the Rangers had gone a whopping 122 minutes on the dot without scoring a goal against the Islanders.
For a time there, Tuesday’s tilt was a totally winnable one for the Blueshirts, but it was the Islanders who cashed in on their chances, and not the Rangers. And to make matters worse? They did it without Kyle Okposo.
Perhaps it’s just been puck luck, or maybe the Islanders really just are that good. I, for one, think it’s a little of both. It isn’t too late for the Rangers to turn this season series around, but so far the Islanders have clearly had the upper hand.
A Potential Nightmare of a Draw
If the playoffs started today, the Rangers would have a first round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins. That, as far as I’m concerned, would be a much better scenario than them having to try their hand in a first round series against the Islanders.
With both teams among the top of the Metropolitan Division, the very real possibility exists, given the still new playoff format that the Rangers and the Islanders could meet in the post-season for the first time since the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarter Finals.
In recent years, that would’ve just been exciting for Rangers fans, as it would’ve served as just another opportunity to continue to prove who the boss of New York hockey was.
But not this year.
It might seem goofy to say, but it almost feels as though the stars starting to align for the Islanders. A young, up and coming team with a rejuvenated fan base, coming together for their final season in what has been the team’s home since its inception in 1972. It’s almost too good (or frightening, depending on your perspective) of a story, that it just might seem possible.
There’s no doubt that the Rangers are a good team, but they have struggled mightily against the Islanders thus far. While a playoff matchup could be unbearably exciting, and an all-around win for New York hockey, it should make Rangers fans just a little nervous.
The Islanders have had the Rangers number thus far. You almost have to wonder if Halak is really in their heads…
Of course it is still only January, and there is plenty of hockey to be played. Maybe the Islanders will have a cataclysmic collapse, and perhaps the Rangers will dominate the Islanders in the final two meetings.
Who am I to say? This is all just silly speculation.
If one thing is for sure, though, it’s that the Rangers-Islanders rivalry is back with a vengeance, and for the sport of hockey in the state of New York, that is the best news of all.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.