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Battle of New York Resumes on Broadway

Brassard excited to experience different side of Isles-Rangers rivalry, while Barzal is eager to shine on rivalry stage

by Sasha Kandrach KandrachSasha /

Three hundred and sixty-six days is a long time to pass by, and it's precisely the amount of time that has lapsed since the New York Islanders and New York Rangers last clashed. 

After going a year between hostilities, the Isles and Rangers will see plenty of each other, as this year's Battle of New York features a playoff-esque slate of three meetings over the span of nine days before both teams dismiss for the NHL's All-Star break.

Having yet to face their crosstown - and divisional - foe, the Islanders have experienced a mix of emotions between nostalgia, excitement, anticipation and eagerness as they kick off the season series at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. 

For Mathew Barzal, who leads the Isles in goals (17), assists (20) and points (37), the matchup is composed of everything the self-professed lover of big games and big moments could want in a rivalry. 

"MSG kind of speaks for itself; It's Madison Square Garden," Barzal said. "Growing up on the west coast [outside of Vancouver], you hear rumors about it and what not. To be able to get a chance to play here is pretty exciting for me. It's obviously in the heart of New York and playing the Rangers; it's two New York teams going against each other. You want to be on your game and when you come down to MSG, you want to be in a good head space to play in a big hockey game. It's just fun being down here. It's a good atmosphere to play in a hockey game."

Video: Morning Skate: NYI vs NYR

Barzal has risen to the occasion when facing the Blueshirts, as he has amassed 14 points (4G, 10A) during his eight-career appearances against the Rangers. Those eight games are highlighted by a five-point (2G, 3A) showing during his rookie season, as well as Barzal's first NHL goal, which came at the Garden on Oct. 19, 2017 against iconic Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist. 

"I'd say my fondest memory would be my first goal here," Barzal recalled. "Growing up, just watching Lundqvist and watching the Rangers on the Sunday afternoon games and at Madison Square Garden. For me as a kid [that] would have been pretty cool if you told me that you'd score your first goal at MSG. For me to do that two years ago was pretty exciting."

For Derick Brassard, his memories of the Rangers-Islanders rivalry differ. Monday will be the first night that the 32-year-old center partakes in the rivalry while sporting the Islanders crest, as Brassard spent four seasons with the Rangers from 2012-16. Now, centering the Isles third line, Brassard is looking forward to experiencing the rivalry from a different point of view. He's also looking forward to hosting his former club on Thursday at Nassau Coliseum - the first Isles-Rangers game on Hempstead Turnpike in five years - and sharing the experience with his new teammates who haven't had a taste of the Battle of New York at the Barn. 

"I remember the games in our rink at the Coli," Brassard said. "Those games are really loud, good atmosphere and everything. I know some of those guys here, because of the renovations with the rink haven't played that game yet. I think Thursday is going to be a hell of a game. I'm looking forward to that one. That's what I remember the most from my time with the Rangers when we were playing the Islanders."

Video: NYI@NYR: Barzal records his second five-point game

Both teams are coming off of losses that snapped two-game winning streaks and having eclipsed the midway point of the regular season, both teams know how vital divisional points are. The Isles (58 points) are looking to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins near the top of the Metro, while the Rangers (46 points) are looking to make up ground in the wild card chase. 

The Isles are 11-3-0 in their last 14 trips to MSG, but with a year between meetings and fresh slate to start every season, they are not counting on past performance, or an easy night from their opponents. Instead, the Islanders are hoping the battle on Broadway will bring a playoff-like atmosphere and rev up the intensity between the two rivals. 

"I hope [the intensity level is really high," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "I expect it to be high. There's a rivalry factor there. Those are important games for both teams. It's like a mini playoff series. I hope it is a playoff intensity from our end. They'll probably have the same on their end. I'm looking forward to it." 

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