Rangers Rivalry Series: Islanders versus Rangers, Broadway’s top rival

When it comes to rivalries, the Rangers versus Islanders is the “Grand Daddy of ’em All”. There’s simply nothing more intense in all of sports on a year in and year out basis.

NY Islanders, geographic rivals

The New York Islanders entered the NHL prior to the 1972-73 season setting embarrassing records for futility and ineptitude in their inaugural season. Meanwhile, the Rangers, under the leadership of Emile “The Cat” Francis, were a bonafide Stanley Cup contender coming off a devastating Finals series loss to Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins one year earlier.

As the decade of the 1970’s progressed, the older Rangers began dismantling their super team, trading and discarding one fan favorite after another while the Islanders used the NHL entry draft to add talent and improve their roster. In 1975, the young, upstart Islander team made their first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs and would’t ya know it, the team from Uniondale would square off against the heavily favored Manhattanites in the first round.

The real rivalry begins between the Rangers and Islanders

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The veteran Blueshirts, perhaps overlooking and underestimating their neophyte neighbors to the east, likely knowing it was that group’s final chance at a championship, lost a best-of-three series in overtime of game 3 when JP Parise scored just 11 seconds into the extra session sending the Isles to the next round and sending the Rangers on an early summer vacation. Parise’s overtime tally not only ended the Rangers season while extending the Islander playoff run, it also was the seminal moment in which, in the opinion of your’s truly, the greatest rivalry in the National Hockey League was born.

1979 saw the next post-season installment of this intense and, at times, viscous rivalry. Current Ranger president John Davidson’s performance-for-the-ages in goal propelled his underdog squad to the Stanley Cup Finals while sending the regular season champion Isles home much earlier than they expected. Who could ever forget the visual of Islander defeseman Denis Potvin, in a catatonic state, leaning against the boards as the Rangers celebrated their shocking victory!

Learn about the origins of the Potvin Sucks chant.

Islanders dynasty only made the rivalry stronger

I’d like to skip right over the decade of the 1980’s, However, in the spirit of transparency and professionalism, I must address the first half of the decade commonly known for decadence and indulgence.

In May of 1980, the Islanders would win their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups. In 1981, the Islanders, on their way to reaching the Finals round, defeated the Rangers each of four straight springs culminating with the now legendary overtime goal by defenseman Ken Morrow in game 5 of the 1984 epic first round series. The cringing Garden Faithful not only had to endure through the Islander Stanley Cup dynasty, but we also had to sit there, helplessly, as Potvin, Bossy, Smith and Trottier ended the Ranger season, year after frustrating year, extending their 40+ year championship drought.

Rangers steamroll Islanders to start 1994 Cup run

Mark Messier: The Slayer of Curses (AP)

The decade of the 1990’s would bring greener pastures for the Blueshirts. Bernie Nicholls Mike Richter, Darren Turcotte and Mike Gartner would lead their club to an impressive four games to one beat-down of the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs in 1990. However, that fierce five game battle is probably best known for the gruesome head injury sustained by Islander star Pat Lafontaine in the game’s waning seconds and the ensuing brawl after the final buzzer of game 1 at Madison Square Garden.

1994, the eighth and, sadly, final time these two bitter enemies would meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs saw the Rangers obliterate the Islanders in a four game sweep outscoring their opponents by a combined 22-3 score, As the Forever Blueshirts subscribers are well-aware, after the white-washing of the Islanders, the Rangers would go on to win the Stanley Cup ending a 54 year championship drought.

Rangers vs Islanders rich in rivalry moments

Across the sporting landscape, regardless of the league or the combatants, a good number of rivalries are hatched from an iconic, infamous, legendary or seminal moment in the playoffs. The Rangers and Islanders certainly have a multitude of post-season moments, but there are also a plethora of regular season snapshots that bring snarls and smiles to each team’s respective fan base.

Whether it’s Denis Potvin’s ambiguously legal body check on Ulf Nilsson in 1979 or Dan Cloutier’s epic mauling of Tommy Salo in 1998 or Theo Fleury’s “Chicken Dance” in 2001 or Chris Simon’s spear to the throat of Ryan Hollweg in 2007, the unbridled and unequaled hatred between these two neighboring franchises is simply the stuff of legend. I could spend hours opining and offering stories about this long-standing rivalry, but I will respect my editor’s requirements and keep my article succinct and to the point.

Let me just end by stating, I have never witnessed a sporting event that could come close to matching the fire, intensity and passion of a Rangers Islanders regular season or playoff game. I have seen Mets/Yankees, Jets/Giants and Rangers/Devils live and in person on several occasions. The above mentioned are certainly terrific rivalries in their own right, but they lag far behind the almost 50 year Battle of New York especially when the contests took place at the Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.

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