The Rangers and Islanders, a “Classic” rivalry
In the pantheon of the Rangers-Islanders rivalry, there are games that stand up and stand out. Tonight at Madison Square Garden with both teams at the top of the Metro Division and jockeying for NY supremacy, this is destined to be “a classic”.
BATTLE FOR NEW YORK
This is the richest rivalry in both team’s history. Older fans that date back to the Rangers B.C. (before Cup) know the fear and loathing of playing the Islanders. Newer fans that only know the Rangers A.C. (after Cup) don’t. You can see how younger NYR fans have a swagger and confidence about playing their “inferior” rival across the Mid-Town Tunnel.
However, this season it’s the Islanders’ fans feeling good. Currently, the Isles are ahead of the Blueshirts by 5 points in the standings but they aren’t comfortable. The Rangers have 3 games in hand on the Islanders and a win tonight will seriously cut into the Isles hopes of staying ahead of the Rangers.
As Alain Vigneault said yesterday, “It’s going to be a New York Classic!” In celebration of tonight, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane.
THE WAR BEGINS
The upstart Isles came into the league in 1972 and had early success against the Rangers. In the playoffs of 1975, the late J.P. Parise (Zach’s dad) scored 11 seconds into OT of game 3 in the best of 3 opening round. The Isles shocked the heavily favored Rangers, but in 1979 the team from the City got their revenge. The Islanders were a team on the verge of a dynasty, but the Rangers won in 6 games en route to the finals!
THE BIRTH OF “THE CHANT”
“Potvin Sucks!” You all know the chant but some of you are clueless as to how it came to be. On Feb. 25th, 1979 a very good Rangers team was firing on all cylinders. Ulf Nilsson, a young forward with a lot of promise was becoming an offensive force. Enter Denis Potvin. The hulking defenseman crushed the kid, resulting in a broken ankle. Nilsson was lost for the season and was never the same again. Rangers fans still ponder, if Ulf was healthy, would they have won the Cup that year against Montreal? It doesn’t matter, because on that night, the greatest sports chant in history was born, “POTVIN SUCKS!”
Fast forward to 1994. The Islanders were now winners of 4 straight Cups and the Rangers were dealing with the “Curse of 1940”. Yes, the Rangers would finally win the Cup after 54 years. However, they needed to do something they hadn’t done in nearly 5 years. The Blueshirts had to win a game at the Nassau Coliseum.
March 5th, 1994 was a crucial game in that Championship season. If they didn’t break the Coliseum Hex, would they have beaten the Isles in the 1st round? In that game the Isles were flying and Richter was pulled early in the second, replaced by Healy. The former Islander did not fair better and was quickly yanked by Keenan in favor of Richter. It was crazy to say the least, as the Rangers had to make a few comebacks to get it tied at 4.
Late in the third period and I remember it vividly, Sergei Zubov would take a shot that smashed the jinx. The young Russian blueliner was just inside the zone when he reared back and let one fly. The blast was like a rocket that beat Ron Hextall for a 5-4 victory. The sight of Zubov dropping to his knees and looking to the heavens while celebrating still gives me chills.
TAKING THE FIGHT OUTSIDE
Last season, the Rangers took part in not one but two Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium. They routed the Devils in the first contest and looked for the sweep against the Islanders.
The Isles wanted this one real bad and the game was tied going into the third period. Daniel Carcillo of all people stuck the dagger in Islander fans’ hearts to give the Rangers a 2-1 win. It was a milestone game for both franchises and the Islanders came up short.
Tonight is not just another game in the rivalry. Tonight it’s about pride and bragging rights, not just for the fans but for the players. The Blueshirts want this one bad. I am sure the Islanders do to, but don’t they always when they play the big boys from the City?
The Islanders will be looking to make a statement that their season is no fluke. They want the league to know, not just the Rangers they are for real. The Blueshirts will also be looking to do the same. They want the league to know that last season’s Cup run was no joke.
They also want the Islanders to know, they aren’t ready to give up the top dog spot in New York.
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