“Let’s get ready to rumble” — Michael Buffer.
“In the white corner, having played 45 seasons in the National Hockey League — sporting a record of 1559-1501-347-136, with four Stanley Cup championships — the NY Islanders!”
“And in the blue corner, having played 91 seasons in the National Hockey League — amassing a record of 2775-2605-808-124, with four Stanley Cup championships — the NY Rangers!”
These modern day gladiators no longer do battle in the (Nassau) Coliseum but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out for blood.
This rivalry burst onto the scene during the Islanders’ inaugural 1972-73 campaign. But it truly took on a life of its’ own during the 1974-75 playoffs.
The third-place Islanders upset the second-seed Rangers in the Preliminary Round of the postseason; disposing the Blueshirts two-games-to-one.
However, the Blueshirts upped the ante — and the intensity — when they triumphed over the heavily favored Islanders during the 1978-79 Semi-finals. The Rangers won the series four to two before falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final.
In addition, these teams faced each other in the postseason every year from 1981-84; with the Islanders sweeping the slate.
The Blueshirts came back with their own clean sweep by knocking the Islanders out of the playoffs in 1990 and 1994; their victory in ‘94 represents the last time these rivals faced-off in the postseason.
Now in 2018, it’s possible they will renew their playoff battles as both teams are battling for postseason berths in a crowded Metropolitan Division race.
For that to happen both sides need to shore up their defenses and get healthy.
But where there’s a will there’s a way.
And don’t be surprised if one team ends up costing the other a playoff spot when it’s all said and done.
DEEP ROOTED CONNECTIONS
Michael Grabner played five seasons for the Islanders (2010-2015).
Islanders Head Coach Doug Weight spent parts of three seasons with the Rangers (1990-1993).
Islanders Assistant Coach Scott Gomez wore a Rangers’ sweater for two seasons (2007-08 & 2008-09).
Mats Zuccarello: Arguably the best playmaker on the Blueshirts, Zuccarello is one assist away from 200 in his career.
Henrik Lundqvist: The King is the Ranger’s franchise wins leader, and he’s set to add another milestone to his legacy. Lundqvist’s next win will be the 20th of his season; becoming the first goalie in NHL history to win 20 plus games in each of his first 13 seasons. And no goalie has ever won 20 plus games in 13 straight seasons at any point in their career.
PLAYER TO WATCH
ISLANDERS: MATHEW BARZAL. There’s not much this 20-year-old kid can’t do. Barzal is second in the NHL rookie scoring race with 39-points and paces the first-years with 26-assists. However, Barzal is currently slumping with just three points in his last six games. That is on the heels of a stretch that saw him accumulate eight points in five games; including his first career hat-trick against Winnipeg on December 23rd. The slender Barzal is already drawing comparisons to Islanders’ legend Mike Bossy, who is a four-time Cup-champion and a member of the NHL Hall-of-Fame. That’s a comparison to be proud of, and it also means that Barzal will snap out of his slump soon. And like Bossy in the 1977-78 season, Barzal is a prime candidate to win the Calder Trophy this year.
RANGERS: VINNI LETTIERI. Potentially the Rangers’ answer to Barzal, Lettieri made his NHL debut against the Red Wings on December 29th and made a splash; scoring his first NHL goal in front of the friends and family members that made the trip to Detroit. And the shoot-first center is surely looking to make a big impression as he plays on the Madison Square Garden ice for the first time.
The Rangers are at less than full strength coming out of their bye-week.
Chris Kreider had surgery to resect a rib early in the week and remains without a timetable to return.
Kevin Hayes is 50-50 to suit up against the Islanders. He isn’t fully recovered from the lower-body injury that knocked him out of the game against Vegas before the break.
After practice on Friday afternoon it appears that Brendan Smith and Paul Carey will be healthy scratches for the game, with Steven Kampfer and Pavel Buchnevich taking their spots.
The rest of the lineup remains the same. And expect Henrik Lundqvist to man the net as he continues the outstanding level of play that earned him a spot on the All-Star team.
WHERE TO WATCH
The game will be broadcast on MSG Network at 1 pm ET. For in-game coverage follow our Twitter account @NYRBlueBulletin.
The Islanders-Rangers rivalry extends beyond the playing surface.
And the fan bases have as much contempt for each other as any two groups of fans in professional sports.
With all the history between these teams there’s no telling what will happen; with one exception.
Whenever these teams meet one chant is sure to be heard: