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Rivalry Week: How Much do the Rangers Matter?

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It’s always a good derby night, and they might be good again soon, but...is the Battle of New York still the thing?

New York Rangers v New York Islanders
Gonna see this for a while yet.
Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

It is written into the source code, that the Rangers (or “Short Island Smurfs” or “Rags” or “Red Pants” if you will) are once and forever the New York Islanders’ biggest rival.

That basic, dogmatic reality will never change.

It’s etched into their name, it’s baked into the fact they are the NHL’s first post-war derby. That the Islanders came into the league and stole local fans steadily and permanently, overcoming a beginning where Rangers fans relished the suburban safety of Nassau Coliseum. That it took the Manhattan team nearly five times as long to win one Edmonton-sourced Stanley Cup as it took the Islanders to win four.

(Let it never be forgotten that Glen Sather, while still GM of the small-market-team-in-an-uncapped-world Oilers, said if he had the Rangers resources he’d win all the time. Except, no, he would not. History would prove it’s not that simple, that maybe Gretzky-Messier-Kurri-Coffey-Furh had a bit to do with all that.)

By the power of Chico, Billy, Bobby and JP Parise, the Islanders started off life as a franchise in the gutter but became “the NHL’s next dynasty” in record time. Though the Rangers stood in their way during the 1979 upset, they served as the passive turnstiles on the way to legitimacy in 1975.

But today, in 2020, how much do the Rangers matter to you, the Islanders fan? Their intra-office or even intra-family source of hatred and hazing will never recede. And the history, from the 1979 Rangers upset to the emasculating string of dynasty-era playoff series victories over the Rangers, is part of the story.

1994 is a blip that does not exist, despite physicists’ best efforts to pin it down, but otherwise besides that and 1990 (the year of the classy Rangers ambulance shakers) there have only been regular season clashes since 1984.

Many, during the dark late ‘90s and early ‘00s when both teams missed the playoffs with regularity, were known for their ‘80s-like clown fracases. Memorable to those of us who watched it go down, but insignificant to a league that was watching Devils and western teams battle it out.

More recently, these teams have taken turns winning in the others’ building, and taking consolation prizes by beating their brother while he was on his way to a better season. When the Islanders moved to Brooklyn the Rangers couldn’t win there. Then when the Islanders shared time at the Coliseum again the Rangers weren’t allowed to play there because they helped fill the seats at Barclays. On and on.

Okay, okay. What we’re saying is it’s Rivalry Wee at SB Nation. And we are kind of handcuffed by the fact you can’t discuss Islanders rivalries without referencing their city counterparts. Other teams can debate proper rivals — if the Rangers resided in Connecticut, then the Penguins would have equal weight in this discussion — but we have to start with the derby baseline.

So to that end, fire away with your rivalry hate in comments. But then tell us: Who’s next in line?