Amid the raindrops and the anticipation of the Liberty World Series between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, New York City’s biggest rivalry is renewed tonight when the New York Rangers visit the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to take on the New York Islanders.

While a poll at the Rangers official web site lists both the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins ahead of the Islanders when it comes to which division rivalry means the most to you personally, Rangers-Islanders games always bring out that something extra.

It is understandable that the Devils and Penguins have jumped to the head of the list in some Ranger fans eyes. After all, the Sean Avery-Martin Brodeur saga is worthy of any soap opera plot Susan Lucci might be involved with. As for the penguins, the intrigue can be summed up in just two words: Sidney Crosby.

That might be the case for others, but as for me nothing beats a Rangers-Islanders game. I think back to my high school days when my friend Dominick used his uncle’s connections at the Garden to get tickets to the Rangers-Islanders games so that we, along with our friend Louie, could see those games in the early and mid 1980s.

“The games between these two teams always are still the most intense of the season,” Newsday’s Greg Logan offered to Peter Schrager of “And yes, the fans still hate each other. Just check the back-and-forth arguments on the blogs that are infuriating because they have no end.”

Ranger fans might find it hard to believe, but the Blueshirts actually hold an edge against the Islanders with a 100-93-19-4 record with the Rangers winning five of six last season – including all three on Long Island.

Of course, the rivalry is not as intense as it once was back in the days when the taunts of “1940” cut through the heart of Ranger fans like a hot knife through melting butter. Heck, even the “Potvin Sucks” chants don’t carry the same oomph as they once used to. A lot of that has to do with the Islanders (mis)fortunes the past few seasons.

Even with the Islanders far removed from their Dynasty days, the Rangers red, white and blue uniforms always seem to bring out the best in even the most inferior of Islander teams.

“It doesn’t matter where the teams are in the standings, one at the top, the other at the bottom or both in the same spot, it’s a battle,” Jeff Tambellini told Steven Marcus of Newsday. “It’s an absolute war out there. Anytime the Islanders and Rangers come together, especially in Nassau Coliseum it’s a hostile environment. There’s not too many sporting events like that. I think every person who plays in it is pretty excited.”

Tambellini, whose father Steve was also a part of the rivalry, realizes that the more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to the Rangers-Islanders rivalry.

“I don’t think much has changed. It’s the same feistiness,” Tambellini related to Marcus. “All that changes is the players that were a part of it.

It is interesting to note that the genesis of the Rangers-Islanders feud goes back to the beginning of the 1970s when sports mavericks Gary Davidson and Dennis Murphy started up the World Hockey Association.

In November 1971, the New York Raiders were one of the 12 original WHA franchises. The WHA planned on placing the Raiders in the brand new Nassau Coliseum which would open in 1972. However, two entities stepped in and a hockey rivalry would be born in time for the 1972-73 NHL season.

The Nassau County government was not too keen on the idea of having their brand new arena be the home for some “fly-by-night” hockey league. As a result, they hired lawyer William Shea to bring an NHL team to Long Island. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Shea played an integral part in the birth of the New York Mets. Ironically enough, the Mets were the result Shea’s threat of starting a new league – the Continental Baseball League. Now, he was fighting against a new startup league.

As you might imagine, the NHL wasn’t too keen on having the WHA gain a foothold in the New York market so Clarence Campbell and the Board of Governors quickly granted franchises to Long Island and Atlanta – thus the birth of the Islanders and Flames.

With nowhere else to go, the Raiders ended up at Madison Square Garden. As you might imagine, the Rangers socked the Raiders with a high rent and the absolute worst choice of playing dates. After one season, the Raiders eventually become the Golden Blades under new ownership. As you might imagine, Blades were hardly golden and the WHA had to step in 24 games into the 1973-74 season to run the team. Hmm, can say precursor to the Phoenix Coyotes?

With playing in the Garden becoming an increasing burden, the WHA did the next best thing – they moved the team and renamed them the New Jersey Knights. If you thought the ice at the Garden was bad, you never heard about the Cherry Hill Arena which had a dip in the ice at center ice causing shots from the far end of the ice to disappear for a second and then reappear as they reached the other end of the ice. As bad as the ice surface was, the rest of the facility was just as bad. After finishing out the season, mercifully the team was sold, moved and renamed the San Diego Mariners who soldiered on until 1977.

With Islanders owner Charles Wang unable to push across the Lighthouse Project, it is possible that the Rangers-Islanders rivalry might be heading for extinction if Wang follows through on his threat to move the Isles if he does not get a new arena. As a result, Rangers and Islanders fans should savor each agonizing game while we still can.

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