Sunday, September 24

Return of Islanders-Rangers playoff rivalry will have to wait

Far be it from me to question the wisdom of the hockey gods, with all they have done for us over the decades. But c’mon, this is ridiculous.

How in the name of JP Parise is it possible for the Islanders and Rangers not to have met in a playoff series since. . . 1994?

It’s a pity, because they have played so many entertaining regular-season games against one another over the decades.

That includes the Islanders’ 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden on March 17, arguably both teams’ most entertaining game this season.

But when they met at UBS Arena on Thursday night, with the Rangers battling for playoff position and the Islanders for pride, it marked the end of the rivalry’s road for this season.

This is not like Jets-Giants or Mets-Yankees, teams in opposite conferences or leagues that have combined for one postseason meeting among them.

The Rangers and Islanders are in the same division! This defies odds and logic.

Since the Rangers swept the Islanders in the first round in 1994 — outscoring them 22-3 en route to their most recent Stanley Cup — they have faced the Capitals six times and the Penguins five in the playoffs.

The Islanders have played the Penguins three times and the Capitals twice.

The Islanders have won only one playoff game against the Rangers since 1984, for crying out loud! One!

About that one: The Islanders needed a double-overtime power play goal by Brent Sutter at Nassau Coliseum to secure it, 4-3, on April 9, 1990.

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Why a power play in overtime?

Troy Mallette of the Rangers had been sent off for five minutes — and ejected — for ramming Jeff Norton’s head into the glass, rendering him unconscious and sending him to the hospital.

This was in keeping with the mood in the crowd, which featured dueling Rangers and Islanders chants. There were police on horseback outside the arena to help keep order.

That was Game 3. In Game 1, Pat LaFontaine was taken off the ice on a stretcher after suffering a concussion and the Islanders’ Ken Baumgartner and Mick Vukota both were suspended and . . . well, it was a different time, young readers.

Of course, one reason for the paucity of playoff matchups has been the paucity of playoff appearances.

Only four times since 1994 have both teams made the playoffs, including a close call in 2015 when an Islanders victory over the Capitals in Game 7 would have led to a second-round showdown. But no.

And even 2015 was a long time ago by now, back when the Islanders were saying goodbye to the Coliseum for the first time.

This season seemed like a good bet for both teams to reach the playoffs, but the Islanders famously failed to hold up their end of the bargain for reasons you are tired of reading about by now.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz was asked before the game about the Rangers’ playoff prospects and gave a positive review.

“They’ve got all the pieces, but so many of the teams in the conference or in the league have similar pieces,” he said. “So it’ll be a challenge. We’ll see what they can do.”

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The Islanders had only Thursday night’s game left to show what they could do, and fans of both teams turned out in force.

They included Alain Guillerme of Manhattan and his 13-year-old daughter, Lia, who both wore No. 9 jerseys that were half Islanders and half Rangers — for Clark Gillies and Adam Graves.

Guillerme is a lifelong Rangers fan, but when Lia announced several years ago that she liked the Islanders, they cut the two jerseys in half and reassembled them.

Alain Guillerme and his daughter, Lia, of Manhattan wear half-Islanders,...

Alain Guillerme and his daughter, Lia, of Manhattan wear half-Islanders, half-Rangers jerseys outside UBS Arena on Thursday night.

Credit: Neil Best/Newsday

“We’re a family,” he said.

They said they get double takes from fans, and once got one from the Islanders’ Brock Nelson during warmups. They often are told this is not the way the rivalry works.

“[People say]’You cannot be a Rangers and an Islanders fan at the same time,’” Guillerme said.

When told about the long drought since the teams last met in the playoffs, Lia said, “They’re probably doing it on purpose, because they don’t want fights or something.”

hmm. Maybe the hockey gods have their reasons after all.

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