By Daniel Friedman
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On Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Islanders and Rangers will kick off their season series. Their storied rivalry has produced many great moments, most of which occurred in the 1970s and 80s.
Over the past few years, the intensity has died down a bit — largely because the Isles haven’t been very good.
That, however, is set to change. The Islanders are back, and so is the rivalry. We saw it in April of 2013, when both teams were fighting for playoff spots, and we saw it at the Stadium Series in January.
Now we’re going to see it for a full season.
Here are four reasons why you should be interested:
1. Star Power
The Rangers aren’t the only team with big names anymore. The Islanders have their own collection of stars, including John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Travis Hamonic and Jaroslav Halak — as well as several young future studs like Brock Nelson. The Blueshirts boast Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello. They also have a few currently out with injuries (Derek Stepan, Dan Boyle). If it’s top-tier talent you’re looking for, you’ll find it on both sides.
2. More Level Playing Field
Unless both teams are competitive, there’s not much of a rivalry. Sure, it’s always nice to beat the other New York team, but if that’s the only thing at stake, it means one side is probably significantly better than the other. When both the Rangers and Islanders are good and they’re fighting for playoff spots and positions in the standings, that’s when the rivalry is at its best. Now that the Isles have improved, they’ve raised the intensity level.
Great goaltending has always been a major component of this rivalry, but it’s been missing (at least on one side) for quite a while. Enter Halak, and the Islanders now have a worthy competitor. While Lundqvist is obviously better, the fact is that on any given night, Halak has the capability to match him save for save — whereas recent Islander goalies did not. That element keeps the score close, which is another key ingredient for making these games so compelling.
4. Hello, Brooklyn
The Islanders aren’t moving until next season, but the shift to Barclays Center will change the landscape. They’ll be right across the river from Manhattan and, technically, joining the Rangers in New York City. At that point, the rivalry practically markets itself. Closer proximity equals more fuel to the fire. Don’t believe me? Just look at how the Knicks/Nets rivalry has changed since the latter came over from New Jersey.
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