In 1975 when the New York Rangers defeated the Atlanta Flames 3 to 2 it helped the New York Islanders clinched their first-ever playoff berth. Little did they know that just several weeks later the Islanders would crush the Rangers Stanley Cup hopes sending them into a rebuilding mode and create one of the bitterest rivalries in all of sports. In 1975 the Rangers and Islanders would meet in their first-ever playoff series. After splitting the first two games just 11 seconds into the first overtime JP Parise scored, giving the Islanders their first series win. This was just the beginning of a long and bitter rivalry that has seen glories on both sides. The Rangers would have to wait for years, but this time the shoe was on the other foot. Don Murdoch and Ron Greschner scored 3:42 apart in the second period. It was all that John Davidson needed in a 2-1 Rangers win. That gave them a 4-2 series win advancing to the Stanley Cup finals to face the Montréal Canadiens sending the New York Islanders home for the summer. In 1981 Steve Baker took the Rangers as far as he could. He was masterful in the first two rounds defeating LA and St. Louis, the fourth and second seed respectively in the playoffs. It was then Baker and the Rangers ran into a wall known as the New York Islanders. The Islanders would sweep that series 4 games to none. Then in 1982 same results, the Islanders steamrolled the Rangers again en route to their third cup, four games to two. 1983 third year in a row, the Islanders defeated the Rangers. The Rangers made a go of it, but Eddie Mio took them as far as he could. The 1984 season may have been the most crushing of them all. It marked the fourth straight year in a row, and the last five out of six that these instate rivals would meet. It was a first-round matchup and a best-of-five. The Rangers would take two games to one lead to start the series. It would all crumple in a corner with Barry Becks’ shoulder on a check by Pat Flatley. The Islanders would go on to win the next two games setting up a decisive fifth game at Nassau Coliseum. Don Maloney would score one of the more controversial goals of the time when his goal was allowed to tie the game sending it to overtime. In overtime Bob Brooke and Miko Leinonen would both miss glorious opportunities to end the Islanders season. Ken Morrow’s goal would end it when it went through of all things a Pat Flatley screen. The next six years Rangers and Islanders didn’t meet in the playoffs. The Islanders dynasty ended, and the Rangers continued doing what they always did: give you a little hope and let you down in the end. In 1990 they would meet again. It would be a classic series, and once again a memorable one. It all started with a James Patrick hit on Pat Lafontaine in game one. This started one of the more bloody brawls between the two. It saw Ken Baumgartner pommel a defenseless Jeff Brubaker as retaliation. In the end the Rangers won the series 4 games to 1. In 1994 the Rangers would end up winning the president’s trophy, and the prize was their arch nemesis in the first round. If any Rangers fan tells you they were not a little apprehensive they were fibbing to you. No need to worry though, the Rangers finished a four-game sweep en route to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, with the Mark Messier goal as the!. The Rangers and the Islanders have not met in the playoffs since. That doesn’t mean the rivalry lost any steam. They still had their moments. Islanders’ fans cannot forget Pierre Turgeon’s goal, virtually ending the Rangers season and propelling the Islanders on an unexpected deep playoff run. Then there was Dan Cloutier hammering a turtling Tommy Salo. It has lost some of the luster out over the last 10 years, but don’t kid yourself it is still there. It seems only fitting that the two teams with fan bases in the same region, and the same disdain for each other are once again placed on a grand stage by the National Hockey League. When the two teams take the game outdoors it is almost as if two brothers finally decided to end the dispute by going out behind the woodshed. The Rangers Islanders rivalry is something that brought out the best in both teams over the years. We as hockey fans can only imagine if they raise the game to another level by playing on the grand stage of Yankee Stadium to reclaim itself as one of the better sports rivalries.
February 7, 2014