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Rangers, Islanders hope to see each other in playoffs

New York teams haven't had postseason showdown since 1994

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Nine years in New York is long enough for Marc Staal to comfortably think he knows what it would be like if the New York Rangers played the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It'd be crazy, for sure," said Staal, the Rangers defenseman entering his 10th season with the organization. "The hype, the atmosphere, the pressure on both teams to have bragging rights and their fans to have bragging rights for the rest of the year, it would be pretty special."

It would also be 23 years in the making. 

The Rangers and Islanders, who open the season against each another at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, MSG+2), haven't played in the playoffs since 1994, when the Rangers swept their rival in the first round and ultimately won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years. 

The New York rivals were an Islanders' win away from playing each other in 2015, but they lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round to the Washington Capitals. The Rangers instead played Washington.

"Even when we thought we had the chance of playing them in the playoffs, you could feel the buzz of people talking about it and wanting it to happen so badly because it's such a fierce rivalry," Staal said. "It's fun to think about what it would be like."

Not knowing hasn't ruined the rivalry for the current players and coaches, who still feel energized whenever the Islanders and Rangers get together. 

If anything, many players said, the intensity in the rivalry has picked up in the past four years because of the Islanders' resurgence and the Rangers' consistency.

The Islanders have made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons after missing 13 times in 17 seasons from 1995-2012. The Rangers have made the playoffs in six straight seasons and 10 of 11 since 2005-06.

That both are quality teams, teams expecting to make the playoffs again, serves to fuel the excitement about the opening-night matchup, the first in the Rangers-Islanders rivalry since 1997 and the second in its history.

"The rivalry creates intensity," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "Of course we dislike them. There's not too many times you step on the ice and like teams. Both teams play hard and you can just tell the game has a little more emotion, a little more physicality. It's a lot of fun. Taking the bus into the city, you see a lot of Islander fans, a lot of Ranger fans. Both fan bases going at it adds to it.

"Over the years, no matter when or where, time of the year, the intensity is always there."

Staal said that was never more present than when they played at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders' home from 1972-2015.

"Nassau was unreal," he said. "One of my favorite places to play was Nassau for that reason. The noise and that atmosphere, fights in the stands and guys in yellow security jerseys running around all game. It was fun."

Staal said Barclays Center, the Islanders' Brooklyn home since the start of last season, doesn't have quite the same atmosphere as Nassau Coliseum -- at least not yet. It'll grow on everybody in this rivalry if the Rangers and Islanders are involved in another playoff race next spring.

They play each other four times this season, including twice after the All-Star break (Feb. 16 at Barclays Center and March 22 at Madison Square Garden).

"Definitely it makes a difference in those games when we play them because it matters in the standings," Staal said. "We're fighting for spots, for positions. It definitely ramps up the intensity and it makes it a lot more competitive, a lot more fun. I think it's great for hockey in this area when we're both good teams. It gets people talking about it and they're great games to play in."

To coach in too, according to Jack Capuano of the Islanders, who said after meeting the late Al Arbour he would go back and watch some of the old Islanders-Rangers games from the 1980s.

Arbour was the Islanders coach for all eight of their playoff series against the Rangers (1975, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1990 and 1994).

"You always talk to those guys that played in Montreal-Toronto, the big rivalries, but to me there's nothing like a Ranger-Islander game," Capuano said. 

Capuano is looking forward to seeing the reactions Thursday from the Islanders' new players. Veteran forwards Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, rookie forwards Matthew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Alan Quine, and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg have never played in a Rangers-Islanders game.

"They'll see firsthand for themselves what type of atmosphere it is," Capuano said.

Rangers forwards Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad, Josh Jooris and Brandon Pirri, as well as defenseman Nick Holden, could get their first taste of the rivalry too. 

Rangers forward Michael Grabner will get the rare opportunity to experience the other side of the rivalry. He's expected to be the 72nd player in history to have played in a game for both teams, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Grabner played with the Islanders from 2010-15.

"If there's one game that's going to push the emotions, it's obviously an Islanders-Rangers game at MSG, there's no doubt about it," Capuano said.

It'll be more than just emotion pushing the Rangers. The first slice of revenge is at stake too.

The Islanders swept the Rangers last season, winning all four games. It was the first time they swept the Rangers in the regular season in their 44 years of existence. 

"Everybody talks about crucial points, well they're a divisional team that is expecting to make the playoffs," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "They did last year and we didn't have much success against them. We've got to find a way to get points against teams in our division and obviously they're thinking the same thing, so it should be pretty intense right off the hop."

They wouldn't mind if that intensity carries into the spring, into a playoff series. It's been 22 years since they've played each other in the postseason, but the rivalry hasn't cooled. If anything, it's heating up.

"It's a great rivalry and many of the games during those early years brought it to where it is now," Tavares said. "That's why they still chant 'Potvin [stinks].' Just a lot of history between the two teams."

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