This has got to be the first time in years than the New York Islanders and New York Rangers will face off with equal amounts to lose and gain at the same time on both sides.
The Rangers have been near the top of the NHL for the last few years and the Islanders have been near the bottom of the NHL for a good while. Sure Islander Ranger tilts always have a little bit of rivalry juice in them but that juice has run largely dry the last few seasons. The problem was Islander-Ranger games have been for the most part meaningless. Beating the Rangers used to be the only thing Islander fans had to look forward to at this point of the regular season. Now? Things are a bit different.
No it is not a make or break game for either team but make no mistake about it: Whoever walks out of Nassau Coliseum with two points tonight is going to feel pretty good about themselves in the morning. The Islanders are one game under .500 for the season and two points out of a playoff spot. The Rangers are looking to keep their recent winning streak alive and advance higher in the standings where they are used to being.
Both teams are fighting against wild inconsistencies this season and both teams at times have looked like contenders only to turn around the next game and look like pretenders.
Tonight's game could go a long way to restoring this rivalry to the heights it once enjoyed. Both sides fan bases used to look at every Islander-Ranger game as a playoff game and a game that had to be won. You could sense a true dislike in the players of each team when they played. Goal celebrations had that extra fist pump, body checks had extra bang behind them. Fights seemed more intense. The crowd hung on every pass, check and shot. The rivalry used to garner national attention as one of the best not just in hockey but in all of sports. Now they can't even get on a "Wednesday Rivalry" game on NBC Sports. The game when I checked this morning, still had tickets available, something that would be unheard of back in the day.
The reasons for the lack of interest are obvious. The Islanders have not been very good at all and the Rangers have had their rivalries with the Devils and Flyers amped up because of the playoff battles they have had. Meaningful hockey is the key to it all. The Islanders have been a floundering franchise looking to gain a little swagger by beating its rich successful rivals to the west. Have the Islanders returned to playing meaningful hockey again? Tonight's game will go a long way in answering that question.
I miss the days of this rivalry when the game was just not another game. When it was an event. When players from both teams would talk about playing each other like it was special and not like now when it seems like it is just another game. When the Islanders move to Brooklyn it will bring automatically a renewed interest to the rivalry but maybe the Islanders and Rangers can lay some of that groundwork to reestablishing this rivalry as one of the best in sports tonight at Nassau Coliseum.