Rangers vs. Islanders: What The Rivalry Means To Us

Marc Staal (18) knocks down Islanders captain John Tavares (91) during the Stadium Series (Paul J. Bereswill)

Marc Staal (18) knocks down Islanders captain John Tavares (91) during the Stadium Series (Paul J. Bereswill)

The New York Rangers were founded in 1926 and had established a stranglehold on the New York hockey scene for close to 50 years by the time the Islanders came into existence.

The New York Islanders were born in 1972. In order to join the ranks of the NHL, the Islanders were forced to pay an indemnity fee of a little over $4 million dollars to the Rangers for infringing on the Blueshirts territorial rights.

The Islanders were looked at and down upon by their Manhattan neighbors as annoying gnats that could by no means compare to the beloved Broadway Blueshirts and their supporters.

Found at thebrooklyntrolleyblogger.blogspot.com

Found at thebrooklyntrolleyblogger.blogspot.com

A Rivalry is Born

After a few years mired in mediocrity, the Islanders made the playoffs in 1975, lo and behold, who was their first round opponent? The New York Rangers!

The Rangers had some success through the years but at no point were they ever able to capture the Stanley Cup. The year the Islanders were born, the Rangers lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins, with the Bruins clinching the Cup on Garden ice.

Now the 2 New York teams would meet for the first time in the playoffs and expectations were not all that great for the Islanders. Yes, the Rangers were getting old but the experts still felt they had enough in the tank to dismiss the pesky Islanders.

The playoff series would be a best of 3 in a 1-1-1 format. The teams split the first 2 games and the series came down to a deciding Game 3 at MSG. 11 seconds into OT, J.P Parise (yes, that’s Zach Parise’s dad!) scored for the Islanders, eliminating the Rangers and the rivalry was born!

J.P. Parise's overtime goal at MSG. (Getty)

J.P. Parise’s overtime goal at MSG. (Getty)

The loss would be the start of a Rangers rebuild while the win catapulted the Islanders from an inept team to one with serious Stanley Cup potential.

A Rebuild & A 1979 Rematch

After meeting up in the 1975 playoffs, each organization went their separate ways in building up a contender. The Islanders stuck with youth as they developed stars like Bryan Trottier, Clark Gilles, Mike Bossy, John Tonelli & Denis Potvin among others while sprinkling in veterans such as Billy Smith, Eddie Westfall & Chico Resch.

The Rangers on the other hand went the other way. They jettisoned long time goalie Eddie Giacomin in favor of John Davidson. They traded away long time stars Jean Ratelle & Brad Park (for Phil Esposito & Carol Vadnais) and had signed Swedish free agents Ulf Nilsson & Anders Hedberg.

This is where the rivalry was born for me. Both the Islanders & the Rangers each made the playoffs in 1979. The Rangers had a decent season finishing with 91pts. (4-29-11) for 3rd place in the Patrick Division. The Islanders on the other hand had a monstrous season as they finished first in the Patrick Division & Campbell Conference with 116 points (51-15-14). For their efforts, the Islanders received a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

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The Rangers played the Los Angeles Kings and in a best of 3 series they downed LA 2-0 to advance to the Quarter–finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders would face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Quarter-finals.

The Rangers would dispatch the Flyers in 5 games while the Islanders would sweep the Blackhawks in 4, thus setting up a Semi-final series between the Rangers & Islanders for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Islanders were led by league leading scorer Bryan Trottier (who would also win the Hart Trophy), Denis Potvin (the eventual Norris Trophy winner), sniper Mike Bossy & coached by Al Arbour (the eventual Jack Adams Trophy winner).

In fact, of the 12 First & Second Team All-star slots awarded at the end of the season, the Islanders had 5 players named (1st team – Potvin (D), Trottier (C), & Clark Gilles (LW); 2nd team – Chico Resch (G) & Bossy (RW)).

The Rangers? They didn’t post any all-stars and were led by former Flyers head coach Fred Shero. They had some solid players in Esposito, Hedberg, Nilsson, Ron Greschner, Dave Maloney Steve Vickers & Pat Hickey they also had a good young core with Ron Duguay, Don Murdoch, Don Maloney & Mike McEwen. However, the Islanders were far more talented and expected to make short work of the Rangers.

In a series that captivated the hearts and minds of all New Yorkers – hockey & non-hockey fans alike – the Rangers prevailed in 6 games to upset the Islanders & advance to the Stanley Cup Final against the powerhouse dynasty – the Montreal Canadiens.

The infamous hit on Ulf Nilsson that gave birth to the "Potvin Sucks" chant in 1979!

The infamous hit on Ulf Nilsson that gave birth to the “Potvin Sucks” chant in 1979!

Two lasting images of the series are forever etched in my mind. The 1st one is that of Rangers goalie John Davidson with his arms raised in triumph as his teammates poured over the boards to mob him after the final buzzer sounded in Game 6. The 2nd one – and the one that I see replayed over & over whenever this rivalry comes to pass is that of dejected Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin slumped on the ice up against the boards with a look of stunned disbelief on his face.

Years after that, Potvin states to this day that defeat was the motivating factor in the Islanders becoming the dynasty they would become over the next 5 years in which they won a mind boggling 19 consecutive playoff series, 5 Conference Championships and 4 consecutive Stanley Cups.

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While the rivalry of today at times lacks the sexiness of years past, due to the ups and downs of both teams, in reality it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The moving of the Islanders to the Barclay Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season will signal a new era in this storied rivalry. With the Islanders having a superstar like John Tavares and some very solid players like Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Matt Martin, Michael Grabner & new netminder Jaroslav Halak plus youngsters like Brock Nelson, Ryane Strome & Brian Strait they are sure to build new memories.

Add in the Rangers stars such as Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Henrik Lundqvist and more and you can see why this is a rivalry will continue for many more years to come.

Still, the Stadium Series reminded us just how good it can still be.

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Other Rangers- Islanders Rivalry Remembrances

There are so many more things about the rivalry and what it means to others. First are a few of my memories and I also asked a few of the other FullTilt Rangers Magazine writers what they thought. Here’s what they said:

Anthony Scultore (Founder/Owner/Editor in Chief):

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 blue-liner 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.

Just in case and Islanders fans read this: they had a chance to stop this and failed! (NYDN)

Just in case an Islanders fan reads this: they had a chance to stop this and failed! (NYDN)

Rob Ritches (FTHN Magazine Writer):

I grew up watching the Flyers and the Atlantic/Metro division…while the Islanders weren’t much of a threat over the last 15 years; it was always interesting watching the Battle of New York.

Some of the most notable moments I remember taking from the rivalry are the Santa brawl in ’03, as well as Chris Simon’s chop on Ryan Hollweg in ’07, and his subsequent 25-game suspension

Jacob Glitter (Ultimate Rangers Fan Winner / FTHN Writer):

If I had to choose between listening to nails on a chalkboard for the
rest of my life without a break, or seeing the Islanders win the Stanley
Cup again, even just once, I would choose nails on a chalkboard…and
I wouldn’t even have to think about it.

Billy Bryson (FTHN Magazine Co-Editor):
I hate them both! Go Bruins!

Hunter Hodies (FTHN Writer):
It’s a big one and will be even bigger when they move to Brooklyn.

My Memories:

In no particular order: a shot of Barry Beck looking skyward after Islander goalie Billy Smith robbed Ranger defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen point blank of a laser shot headed for the top corner during a playoff game at MSG.

Mike Richter doing his best impression of a brick wall during the 1994 playoffs.

Ken Morrow’s OT winner beating Glen Hanlon and eliminating the Rangers after Don Maloney had tied the game in the final seconds of the third period; Dave Maloney crying inconsolably while being interviewed after that same game.

Patrick Flatley’s crunching check on Barry Beck, separating Beck’s shoulder and knocking him out of the playoffs (and effectively ending his career as well).

Theo Fleury flapping his arms like a chicken and Sandy McCarthy flexing his muscle taunting the Islanders.

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Dan Cloutier going bat-shit crazy during a brawl and taking off his jersey and challenging the Islanders bench.

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What are your favorite memories? Share them in the comments section.