Rangers Pregame: Yes, this really used to be a rivalry

In 1979, the New York Islanders were on their way to becoming an NHL powerhouse. They had 116 points that season, edging out the Montreal Canadiens by one point for best in the league. The Rangers finished that season with 91 points, good enough for third in the Patrick Division. (Bring it back Gary!!!!)

After sweeping the Kings in the Preliminary round and upsetting the Flyers in the Quarters, the Rangers were ready to do battle with the Islanders, who were fresh off of a sweep of the Blackhawks.

The two teams did battle in a playoff series that was one for the ages, and until the EastCon finals in 1994, was probably the best playoff series New York hockey fans had ever seen. Four of the games were decided by one goal, two of them needing overtime to be decided. In the end, the Rangers pulled off the upset, sending the Islanders home in six games, and putting the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Canadiens.

The rivalry continued over the years, with the Rangers and Islanders meeting again in the postseason in 1981 (Islanders sweep), 1982 (Islanders 4-2), 1983 (Islanders 4-2), 1984 (Islanders 3-2, early rounds were best three out of five then), 1990 (Rangers 4-1), and of course, we all remember how the Islanders were a mere speed bump on the way to the 1994 Stanley Cup.

While the Islanders had their dynasty, life wasn't easy for Ranger fans, and to this day Islander fans love to remind us where the "1940" chant was born. Of course Ranger fans were able to extract some revenge during the aforementioned 1994 playoffs ("We want Hextall!"), and we'll never, ever let Islander fans forget those "Fish Stick" jerseys.

Do I even need to mention that Potvin guy?

The Rangers and Islanders once had what I considered to be one of the best rivalries in hockey, if not all of sports. Before the Devils came along, battle lines across the Metro area were divided between fans of the two teams. I grew up in Bayonne, NJ, and except for my good buddy Bryan (b23bluepain for those of you who listen to the radio show), our neighborhood was definitely Islander country. We definitely didn't have it easy in those days, when the Isles were winning all those Cups.

The two teams teams will meet up again tonight, with the Rangers in a free fall mode, while I could swear the Islanders have been five points out of a playoff spot all season long. A rivalry indeed.

Where are JD, Espo, and Gresch when we need them?

A preview of tonight's Battle Royale is after the jump........

(Preview courtesy of NHL.com)

72 GP 72
29 W 31
33 L 32
10 OT 9
68 P 71
0.472 P% 0.493
2.53 G/G 2.56
3.00 GA/G 2.69
16.3 PP% 18.1
76.4 PK% 83.4
30.5 S/G 29.5
31.7 SA/G 29.8
48.1 FO% 49.6

Islanders -- Do they have a chance at making the playoffs? Ten points out of eighth place with 10 games to go makes it unlikely, but it doesn't mean the players are giving up just yet.

"It's about being professional and realizing it's not over yet," goaltender Dwayne Roloson said. "We're still in a position we can make the playoffs, and we believe we can. Is it a good chance, a 99 percent chance? No, but mathematically we're able."

The Isles were able to muster three points out of a tough three-game swing through Vancouver, Anaheim and Los Angeles before returning home (sort of) for Wednesday's game at MSG.

Rangers -- In a big game with the Bruins on Sunday, the Rangers came up small, losing 2-1 and leaving themselves five points behind the Bruins for the final playoff spot in the East entering the final three weeks of the season. The deficit grew to seven points after Boston's 4-0 win in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Things are looking bleak. Even goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said, "It's been an effort the past few weeks to try to stay positive." But there's still time, and captain Chris Drury isn't ready to roll over.

"No one in here is gonna quit," he said. "No one in here is gonna mope around. We've just gotta do everything we can to win one game. That's it."

Puck drop -- If the Rangers finish the season by going 10-0-0, they will wind up with 91 points. Only twice since the lockout has 91 points been enough to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No team has reached the postseason during that time with less than 91 points.