“What the f-ck?” That was my first reaction during the Rangers-Islanders game on Monday night. It only took 11 seconds for Nassau Coliseum to be given a reason to explode at the expense of the Rangers thanks to a Cam Tablot errant pass/brain fart that gave Jonathan Tavares an open net to put the Islanders ahead as early as possible.
I sat through the Rangers’ third-period collapse against the Islanders on Oct. 14. I watched the Rangers shut out at home by the Islanders on Jan. 13 after the Rangers had just swept California. And I somehow kept watching on Jan. 27 when the Rangers lost to the Islanders again and couldn’t solve Jaroslav Halak until 19:50 of the third period. Here I was again, getting overly excited about a regular-season game thanks to the New York hockey hype, only to be deflated before Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti could even get settled in.
I spent the last three weeks since the most recent Rangers-Islanders game wondering how the Islanders had become such a bad matchup for the Rangers. Why couldn’t the Rangers beat a team they had beaten up for so long and why couldn’t they solve Jaroslav Halak? Jaroslav Halk! JAR-O-SLAV HA-LAK! What was happening to the Rangers when they played the Islanders? Why were they 0-3-0 with a minus-9 goal differential against the Islanders and 33-13-5 with a plus-46 goal differential against the rest of the league?
Eleven minutes and 35 seconds later, Frans Nielsen scored, the Coliseum sounded like it was late April, May or June and I sunk even further into an angry depression. The happiness provided by Ryan McDonagh’s goal at 14:35 of the first did hold me over through the first intermission, but then Johnny Boychuk dropped the hammer at the start of the second with an absolute bomb from the blue (literally on the blue). The Islanders led 3-1 and I tried to look into the future at what a possible Rangers-Islander playoff series would be like.
I have said all along that I don’t want a Rangers-Islanders playoff series because from a Rangers fan standpoint, nothing good can come from it. If the Rangers win, they’re the Rangers and they’re supposed to win. And if the Islanders win, it’s basically the worst thing imaginable. It’s the same feeling I have about Yankees-Red Sox playoff series. If the Yankees win, they’re the Yankees and they’re supposed to win. And if they lose, well, I lived through 2004 while actually living in Boston, and I have done everything to erase that week and the weeks that followed from my mind. The aftermath of a series loss far outweighs the satisfaction of a series win, unless that series win eventually leads to a championship. There’s nothing for the Rangers and Rangers fans to gain by playing the Islanders in the playoffs. Sure, it would be great for New York hockey and for the mainstream media around here to pretend like they care about hockey and it would be good fuel to rekindling the fire of a once-strong rivalry. But if the Rangers don’t win, it’s a disaster.
Even after Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh scored 23 seconds apart to tie the game and quiet Islanders fans in their own building and incite raucous “Let’s Go Rangers!” chants, I felt the same way about a potential playoff series. Ryan Strome helped me remember why I had been against an April or May meeting with a pair of goals to give the Islanders their third two-goal lead of the game. But then everything changed.
Derek Stepan scored 2:42 after Strome’s second goal to cut the Islanders’ lead to 5-4 and just 1:37 later, Martin St. Louis scored for the first time since Jan. 10 to tie the game at 5. The Rangers had come all the way from a two-goal deficit for the second time in as many periods and 7:26 later, Kevin Klein scored the eventual game-winner to give the Rangers a 6-5 lead and their first lead over the Islanders since Derick Brassard scored 3:50 into the second period to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead on Oct. 14. And that’s when I decided I’m all in on a Rangers-Islanders playoff series.
I was wrong to not want the teams to meet in April or May before the same way the officials were wrong on Monday to take Tanner Glass and Matt Martin to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct before they could give the Coliseum the only thing that had been missing from the game. The Rangers had just scored twice in 23 seconds to tie the game forcing Jack Capuano to use his timeout and the Islanders’ portion of the Coliseum had been stifled by “Let’s Go Rangers!” chants. In that moment with that textbook chain of events leading to a fight and to Glass and Martin lining up next to each other, the officials have to recognize the situation and let it happen. The stage was set for two willing participants to drop the gloves, but they were stopped by the 2015 version of the NHL.
Well, I’m no longer going to be on the side of the argument that doesn’t want to see Rangers-Islanders this spring. New York City needs this, Long Island needs this, the Rangers want this, the Islanders want this and hockey deserves this. One last time before the Islanders close out the Coliseum and move to Brooklyn for obstructed viewpoints and a non-centered overhead scoreboard, the Rangers and Islanders need a two-week war like the old days when “Rock and Roll Part 2” and “Machinehead” were used the way that Macklemore and Avicii are now. Five regular-season meetings to determine the “Best Team in New York” isn’t a real barometer for measuring success (even though Islanders fans desperately want it to be), only a seven-game series is.
So give me Rangers-Islanders this April or May. Give the Rangers a chance to be the team that closes the Coliseum and the team that sends the Islanders off the Island and to Brooklyn after an emotional handshake line. Give the Rangers a chance to silence the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chants for the summer and the opportunity to return the Islanders fans that have come out of the woodwork to chirp about four-plus months of good hockey after 20 years of bad hockey. Give the Rangers a chance to end the Islanders’ season.
Before Monday night, I didn’t want a Rangers-Islanders playoff series. Now I don’t just want it, I need it.