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The Islanders-Rangers Rivalry

The story behind the area's only true sports blood feud

From the Rangers fan perspective, while sweeping the Islanders in 1994 on their way to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years ranks near the top of the list for great moments in this not-so-civil war, 52-year-old Mark Hawver of Hauppauge also recalls the 1979 playoff upset of the Islanders as his most memorable moment.

“I remember feeling the Rangers took back the rivalry that night,” he says. “I can also recall driving to a friend’s house in Syosset to watch Game Six with three other guys, they were Islander fans, including my neighbor in Queens who converted to being an Islander fan after the Parise OT goal in ’75. The Rangers were huge underdogs, but JD [goalie John Davidson] was hot and Gresch [defenseman Ron Greschner] was so smooth. I will always remember Greschner’s series-winning goal, a slapshot from just inside the blue line, and the shocked and dejected Denis Potvin slumped by the boards after the series ended.”

Fish Sticks!


Few could ever earn this kind of karma. Kenny Morrow entered the NHL right after winning a Gold Medal as a member of the famed 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team and joined the Islanders only a couple of months before the Islanders won their first Stanley Cup. Four drinks from Lord Stanley later, the Islanders were in the midst of their “Drive for Five,” fighting to win a fifth consecutive NHL crown. The team had grown a bit older and a little tired. Coming into the playoffs, the Islanders would face a tough Rangers team. The series’ deciding game, played in the Coliseum, went into overtime after Ranger Don Maloney had tied the game with 39 seconds to go. About 10 minutes into an overtime that saw fast and furious action, Morrow found the puck on his stick.

“I just wanted to get it on net,” says Morrow, the current director of pro scouting for the Islanders. “I never had a hard shot. Just keep it in front, try to put it through the net.”

Morrow shot as Islander Patrick Flatley screened Rangers goalie Glen Hanlon. He knew what the result was when the Coliseum crowd erupted.

“Hanlon saw, I never saw it,” laughs Morrow.

The view from the bench was different. “We could see the puck hit the net clearly,” says Trottier. “And it was such a wave of joy, but also relief, because those games take so much out of you.”

The 3-2 win temporarily kept the Islanders hopes for a fifth straight Cup alive. That Gretzky’s Oilers would go on to spoil that dream matters not to Lee.

“The first school day after that game I wore my Islanders jersey in,” he recalls with a grin as wide as the Island is long. “It was the first and only time I had ever worn my Islander jersey to school. I just wanted to see the look on the faces of all the pitiful Rangers fans when they saw my Isles’ colors.”

The fans love blood. During a 1990 playoff game, Islanders great Pat LaFontaine was crushed by the Rangers’ James Patrick during a game at the Garden. LaFontaine crumpled to the ice and suffered a concussion. While the Rangers cheered his removal from the ice, they were not done celebrating. Famously, the ambulance carrying LaFontaine had a hard time getting out to the hospital because Rangers fans were busy trying to turn it over.

Trottier says that some of the Rangers’ players were great friends of his. “We’d see these guys in the summer, [Phil] Esposito or Danny Maloney at golf events or whatever, and they were great. But on the ice, it was war. We did whatever we could do to beat each other.”

Like a bad marriage that just keeps rolling along despite the daily hostility, the loathing has a certain charm to it. It’s like the fans on both sides are happy to see one another at the outset with an, “Ahh yes, it’s you again. I’ve missed you,” attitude, before quickly adding, “Come closer so I can punch your face in.”

But it’s the fans who get it best.

“This rivalry will always mean much more to fans of both teams than it ever will to all the players who come and go in and out of it over the years,” says Horan. “I sincerely hope these two teams are going at it for as long as the NHL exists. There’s nothing like it.”

See you at center ice.

Top 10 Most Memorable Moments In The Islanders/Rangers Rivalry

1. 1975 J.P. Parise’s goal 11 seconds into overtime in the decisive Game Three of the opening round series sends the Isles on to the next round and sends the shocked Rangers home. A rivalry is born.

2. Rangers return the favor with a big playoff upset in 1979 by a 4-2 count. The loss almost seems to spur the Isles’ run of four straight Stanley Cups, which begins the following season.

3. Denis Potvin’s infamous hit on Rangers star Ulf Nilsson that broke the forwards’ ankle is followed by more than 30 years of “Potvin Sucks!” chants at the Garden—even during Knicks games.

4. The “1940!” chant that was regularly heard at the Coliseum…until 1994, of course.

5. The 1994 Rangers sweep of the Isles on the way to the Blueshirts’ first Cup in 54 years, outscoring the hapless Isles in the series 22-3.

6. About a dozen fish heads are hurled in the general direction of Islanders goaltender Billy Smith during the National Anthem at a Garden game in 1979. Smitty is seen sitting inside the goal when the lights come back.

7. Rangers fans throw bowls of chili all over the Garden ice in 1979 in response to an Wendy’s promotion with the Islanders that provided two free bowls of chili for a 10-goal drubbing against the Rangers earlier in the season.

8. Ranger Don Maloney ties decisive Game Five in 1983 opening round playoff, batting puck out of mid-air with 39 seconds left…

9 …but Ken Morrow nets OT winner to give Isles the series 3-2, temporarily keeping their “Drive for Five” alive. It is arguably the best game ever played in the history of the rivalry.

10. Potvin breaks Bobby Orr’s record for career points by a defensemen in a 1985 game at the Garden. Maybe Potvin doesn’t suck, huh?

Islanders/Rangers Rivalry Lore
Bet You Didn’t Know…

• Islanders great Butch Goring once asked Ranger Ron Duguay, prior to a faceoff, “So, what’s Cher like?” Duguay had  been linked to the singer in the tabloids. No word on what Duguay’s response to the query was.

• Islanders penalty-killer extraordinaire Billy  Carroll claimed he could actually hear Rangers enforcer Ed Hospodar’s jaw break during the famous fight with Clark Gillies during the Isles 1981 playoff-sweeping Game Three at the Garden. Hospodar was never the same. The Isles went on to win their second straight Cup.

• During that same 1981 series sweep the “1940!” chant was born during games One and Two at Nassau Coliseum.

• After asking several Rangers over the years, including Ron Greschner and Ron Duguay, who their most hated Islander was during the rivalry’s heyday, circa 1978-85, and the answer is: Duane Sutter.

• Both Phil Esposito and Don Maloney have concurred that the Islanders player they least liked facing was Denis Potvin. “Nobody hit you like that guy hit you,” Espo has been quoted as saying. “You felt it for weeks.”

• The 1984 Game Five overtime between the two clubs is still generally regarded as one of the best playoff overtimes ever played.

• There’s no truth to the popular rumor that former Rangers and Islanders GM Don Maloney was actually sent to the Islanders by the Rangers to sabotage the franchise…despite the fact that that’s exactly what he did from 1992-95.

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