Islanders captain Mark Streit keeps it plain and simple when asked to describe the rivalry between the New York Islanders and New York Rangers.
“It’s New York City, they’re the Rangers and we’re the Islanders,” Streit said. “You’d think the rivalry has been going on for centuries, because you can see it in the stands and you can see it on the ice. I just love playing those games. It’s like a playoff game. The atmosphere is louder in the building and it’s more intense. You can tell it’s not like any other opponent.”
The Islanders play in Manhattan on Thursday for the first time this season. It’s the 121st time the clubs will meet at Madison Square Garden, the site of one of the biggest moments in the rivalry’s history, J.P. Parise’s overtime goal in Game 3 of the 1975 preliminary round.
Thursday’s matchup may be an early season tilt, but both teams will be putting everything on the line. The Islanders are looking to reverse a two-game losing skid, while the Rangers have started slowly and are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference at 4-5-0.
Islanders forward Frans Nielsen, who has been part of the rivalry for seven seasons, says both teams have something to prove.
“The importance of the game tomorrow makes everything bigger,” Nielsen said. “We want to get back on track and get back to winning. I’m sure they want to do the same thing, so it’s going to be a real battle.”
Nielsen added some interesting personal perspective when trying to characterize what the Islanders-Rangers rivalry is like on the inside.
“I was part of another rivalry in Finland during the lockout,” Nielsen said. “The team I played for, Lukko Rauma, and the team Jesse Joensuu played for, Assat Pori, were only half an hour apart. It was pretty crazy, especially in their building. The fans would spit at us when we walked onto the ice. People in both towns couldn’t even talk to each other. It was pretty bad. But it’s still not bigger than Islanders-Rangers.”
Assistant Coach Doug Weight is the only current Islander to have played for both teams. Drafted by the Rangers in 1990, Weight played in the Big Apple from 1991-93, and returned to the area in 2008, when he signed with the Islanders.
“Playing there has always been different for me because that’s where I started,” Weight said. “You realize when you put the Islanders sweater on how much dislike there is between the two sides. It’s not so much that there’s hatred – there’s rivalries and players change teams from time to time, but what makes it special is the fan base and the passion between the two fan bases. It’s a fun atmosphere and you always get amped up, whether you’re playing or just watching as a fan or a coach.”
Weight’s most memorable rivalry moment came during his first trip to Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Rangers on Nov. 16, 1991.
“We had a tough team, as did the Islanders with guys like Mick Vukota and Ken Baumgartner,” Weight said. “They had a lot of mean guys too, so it was quite eye-opening. I remember there were probably eight or nine fighting majors, and there were probably another 15 in the stands. I was like, ‘These people are nuts.’ I’d never seen anything like it. That opened my eyes and I never came in either building unprepared again. With these teams, you never know what is going to happen.”
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