BROOKLYN, NY – The first time the New York Islanders invited their neighbors the New York Rangers for a housewarming party was on Oct. 21, 1972.
The expansion Islanders were in a state-of-the-art arena called the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Rangers, who lost in the Stanley Cup Final to Boston in the previous season, played their new rivals for the first time and defeated them, 2-1.
On Wednesday night in Brooklyn – 43 years, a dynasty and a ended Cup drought later – the Islanders hosted the Rangers in their second home, that temple of obstructed seats and easy mass transit access known as Barclays Center.
Again, the score was 2-1.
This time, the hosts beat the guests.
“It’s always fun to play in front of a crowd like this. Cheering from both sides. Both sides trying to be louder,” said Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak, who made 33 saves and three more in the shootout for the win. “They had a lot of fans here tonight, as well as did. I think our fans did a good job staying really loud, being behind us the whole game.”
New building, same rivalry. “If You Know The Rangers Suck [Clap Your Hands]” echoed. “Potvin Sucks!” made its appearance in voice, while Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies appeared in the flesh. When the Islanders excelled, it felt like their fans owned the place. When the Rangers excelled, it sounded like the Madison Square Garden satellite office.
Blue Islanders sweaters comingled with blue Rangers sweaters, with only orange and red making them distinct. (Boomer Esiason wore his Rangers gear to the game, although the arena superimposed Islanders gear on him when he was on the Jumbotron, which was cute.)
“It was loud. Loudest game this year for me, anyway. I think the fans got their money’s worth,” said coach Jack Capuano.
The teams combined for 71 shots on goal in three periods and the overtime; combined, the Rangers and Islanders had 141 shot attempts in the game. But only two regulation goals thanks to stellar goaltending from Halak and Henrik Lundqvist (36 saves).
John Tavares got the Islanders on the board at 12:22 of the second period with a power-play goal. With Keith Yandle in the box for hooking, Dan Girardi sent the puck over the glass for a 2-man Islanders advantage. Kyle Okposo passed to Tavares on the half boards. He patiently skated out to the slot and used an Anders Lee screen to put the puck past Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead.
The Rangers tied the game at 18:37 on a strong shift from Dominic Moore’s line. Marc Staal’s shot deflected to Viktor Stalberg, who sent a quick backhander through Halak to make it 1-1.
The overtime was eventful thanks to an unforgivable mistake from the Islanders: a too many men on the ice penalty when there are only three skaters on the ice for each team. “I’m not going to go into detail on who jumped. We win or lose as a team,” said Capuano.
The Islanders killed off the penalty and the game went to a shootout, where Kyle Okposo had the lone goal and Dan Boyle ended the game with one of the most methodical and anti-climactic attempts of the season:
You know it's time to get rid of the shootout when Dan Boyle's attempt comes at nearly 0 mph! pic.twitter.com/hbf3ANeOJg
— David Kolb (@DavidKolbMSG) December 3, 2015
“He lost the puck a little bit, and couldn’t put it in,” said Halak. “Got a little lucky on that one."
The Islanders fans celebrated and the Rangers fans vacated after that miss. New arena, new exit plan: Many flooded to the nearby subway rather than the vast parking lots of Nassau.
Back in 1972, the Rangers went on to win the season series, 6-0, by a combined score of 25-5. Of course, that was a Cup contender vs. an expansion team, and a far cry from what we have 43 years later: Two city rivals, both with designs on a championship season, in what could eventually be a collision course for a playoff series.
Brooklyn got a taste of the rivalry tonight. But that’s what New York hockey fans have been hungering for since 1994.
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