There's a little more than six hours until the drop of the puck at what should be an energized Garden tonight when the Rangers play host to the hated Islanders.
What makes this rivalry so special is its intensity. Not just the players on the ice for each respective team but the passionate fans who add so much to these games. Whenever Ranger and Islander fans get together for a game, you never know what to expect. But sometimes, the hatred can go too far and boil over even in the stands which many know all too well.
It was during one of last year's games at MSG (one the Rangers pulled out) that that evidence was on display when a drunk Isles' fan said a few too many things to a couple of Blueshirt fans which led to a fight and a couple of spectators being tossed out. That it literally happened right in front of me was all too scary.
I'm a true believer that these types of incidents could be avoided entirely if the paying customers who go just had a little more mutual respect for one another. These are the teams that we support. It's not like we're players competing against each other every shift where emotions sometimes run too high and lead to scraps. That's what Colton Orr and Chris Simon are for along with Hollweg, Strudwick, Witt and Sutton.
A lot of times, it's the alcohol that leads to such ugly stuff which usually takes away from what's happening on the ice.
These games are about as good as it gets in this league. Like any bitter rivalry, the battles in the corners are a little more intense which usually makes for fairly competitive and entertaining games.
So far, the Islanders have prevailed in the first two games of the 2007-08 season series winning both by the narrowest of margins- a goal both in regulation. The 2-1 and 3-2 scores are reflective of how close these contests can be. With many coming down to the final close call at the buzzer.
Lately, the Fishsticks have had the better of the rivalry bringing an 8-1-2 recent record into tonight's big battle. In fact, they've taken four of the past five on Broadway dating back to last season. So, the Blueshirts have plenty of incentive to defend their own turf.
Both teams are playing well coming in with the Islanders winning five of seven and the Rangers putting a season high five-game winning streak on the line.
The Rangers (12-7-1) lead the Atlantic with 25 points while the Islanders (10-6-0) enter in third five behind despite playing four fewer games. Got to love those schedule makers!
Figure both starting netminders Rick DiPietro and Henrik Lundqvist to be in goal. Lately, DiPi has been brilliant in these games. The King is having a great year. So it should be a fun goalie battle.
In order for the Blueshirts to win, they must play aggressively and win the battles along the boards. Use their speed well to attack a slower but mean Fishstick D. On the other side, they can't allow the Isles to get their aggressive forecheck going. They are extremely effective down low at generating chances.
The team who can consistently pin the opposite side in their own end will most likely wind up with the two points.
Special teams could also come into play. The Islanders have a pretty potent power play while the Rangers have a solid penalty killing unit. The Ranger PP is still not great and can be attacked shorthanded. They must get it righted soon before it starts affecting end results.
It should be another great battle!
Congratulations to Martin Brodeur on finally becoming just the second NHL netminder to win 500 for a career, trailing only childhood idol Patrick Roy! He might be on the opposing side and an Oscar Award winning embellisher at times but this is a very classy team oriented athlete who has a great attitude.
As someone who covered him a few times, he was always there win or lose. And more often than not as evidenced by the three Stanley Cups, Olympic Gold and three Vezinas, Marty came out on top. His great desire and extreme work ethic have helped him have an outstanding career which is why when it ends, the likeable Montreal native is going into the Hockey Hall up in Toronto.
Glad it also came at the expense of the Cryers. Especially in their building. That must've been rough.
Enjoy your hockey night!