There was a time in my life when a loss to the Islanders use to eat away at me. I mean, really get under my skin type of stuff. Sleep was an afterthought and I used to get so annoyed I'd try to put myself straight to bed.
I don't think I've ever hated the Islanders as much as their fans hated the Rangers. It always was -- and always will be -- a little brother big brother rivalry. That's not an insult. Being an Original Six has its perks. But hatred for the Islanders when the two teams matched up always held a dark place in my heart.
I've moved away from that, though. Actually, I've been away from it for a long time. I'm much more concerned about the matchups with the Penguins, Capitals, Flyers, Canadiens and sometimes the Blue Jackets now. I still don't like the Islanders, don't get me wrong, but the matchups don't eat up at me like they used to.
I think I'm ready for that to change.
Want to know what my favorite Rangers Islanders memory is? Right after the Rangers traded for Sean Avery I circled the calendar for the first matchup against the Islanders. I couldn't wait to see what he would do. I skipped my night class and me and my buddies watched the game in the common room. Avery didn't disappoint. At some point in the game Avery came in like a missile down the boards and destroyed new-Islander Ryan Smyth. It. Was. Awesome. Most of my friends were Devils fans or Islanders fans and we still all went crazy when that happened.
If you're older your memories are obviously skewed to past playoff performances and that four-year dark period where the Islanders did something I, thankfully, wasn't alive to see and thus don't have to acknowledge. So my hatred faded as the Rangers matched up with the Devils, Capitals, Penguins and Canadiens in the playoffs.
Part of the problem is the timing. The Rangers weren't very good for a while in the early 2000's, then the Islanders weren't very good for a few years, the Rangers suddenly got good, then the Islanders got good too but they never seemed to align. Last year the world came a goal away from seeing a Rangers-Islanders Second Round playoff matchup that would have brought the foundation of this argument down. It didn't happen, and thus I forgot about the Islanders and threw more gasoline on the Capitals fire.
As much as I don't like the new realignment system the NHL employs it does a really good job of creating (and supporting) rivalries within the division. Having to go through your own family first before making it to the Conference Final is a pretty good way of making sure you don't like the other guys at the table.
A Rangers Islanders playoff series would change all of that. Last night was ... fun. So much fun.
There's something about a true rivalry that changes the entire dynamic of a hockey game. NBC loves to shove "rivalry night" down our throats every Wednesday with matchups like Minnesota - Boston. When the broadcast does actually pick up a rivalry? There's nothing like it. Thanks to the Islanders not being able to sell out their own building the game basically became played at a netural site and it was awesome. Warring chants, each fanbase trying to be louder and explosions for every goal? Sign me up for that every time (so long as it's not in my building).
In my head I had to imagine Rangers and Islanders fans conceding that last night was really fun for everyone regardless of the score. I'm not saying opposing fans were hugging each other, but a simple nod of the head and a "yeah, that was awesome" look says more than you think it does. That was good hockey. Period. And there's nothing better than good hockey.
So, yeah, I think I'm ready to hate the Islanders again. So let's try and make that playoff series a reality.
You know, so long as the Rangers win.