There’s been a lot of blood spilled in the rivalry between the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.
The contempt the Islanders and Rangers – and their fans – have for each other is as old as the rivalry itself. It’s a bitter feud highlighted by goalie fights – several of them – line brawls and grudges held for more than 30 years. Fireworks can erupt at any minute when these teams play each other and no game is too small for two teams that have even line brawled in the preseason.
No game may be too small, but perhaps some games are too big to be too focused solely on throwing punches. With the Islanders and Rangers deadlocked in the standings, points are more valuable than blood. Hit them where it hurts - in the standings.
“It’s huge,” Brock Nelson said. “Any divisional game is a big game for us. We have to come out ready to play. We want to separate ourselves from some of the other teams that we’re in the standings with and this is a big game and a good opportunity to do that.”
At this juncture, the Islanders and Rangers are deadlocked in the standings, tied with 51 points apiece, holding the second and third seeds in the Metropolitan Division. If the status quo holds, these teams are on a collision course for the first round of the playoffs, their first postseason matchup since 1994. Home ice will make a difference and points – especially in head-to-head matchups – need to be secured now.
“You’re seeing that now with Washington, the Rangers and a lot more in the divisional games, how much more of a rivalry there is,” Ryan Strome said. “I think it’s because of how tight the standings are, how close it is and how every game counts. It’s a four-point game almost.”
There’s no singular villain on this current Rangers team for the Islanders to gravitate towards, like Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson or alumni Dale Hunter. (Perhaps the Islanders pesky, hard-hitting duo of Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck rile up the Rangers and their fans, but you’d have to ask them.) But just because Thursday’s game won’t look like a Charlestown Chiefs-Syracuse Bulldogs game doesn’t mean it won’t be an intense, electric and emotionally-charged atmosphere, much like the Islanders’ 2-1 win on Dec. 2 at Barclays Center.
“It’s amped up being a rivalry, [the Rangers] being so close and the fans being amongst each other,” Josh Bailey said. “They are obviously games you are excited to play in. You can feel the atmosphere jump up a notch. It just makes the game more fun to be a part of.”
Dueling fans are a staple of this rivalry, invading each other’s buildings and giving the games derby-like atmospheres. It brings out the best in both fanbases, who go head-to-head with chants of “Jar-O!” “Hen-rik!” and “Let’s Go Islanders”.
With that type of passion pouring out of the stands, Nelson said these are some of the easiest games to get up for.
“These games, the atmosphere is second-to-none,” he said. “We feed off the crowd and will hopefully get them into it and get some extra energy from that.”
Nelson said the Islanders are aware of the extra hype surrounding these games, but that all the fire they need is already inside of them.
“For us, internally, everybody does that subtly without going around and preaching it, but it’s definitely a huge game, one you have to come ready to play for,” he said. “Lots of buzz, lots of excitement and a lot of adrenaline going right away.”