Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

Joe Micheletti has succeeded a pair of iconic analysts, first Ed Westfall on Islanders games in 1998, then John Davidson on the Rangers in 2006.

The fact that he generally has been well received by both fan bases says something about his work and likability. The guy is from Minnesota, but he is our local TV hockey Switzerland.

Now this: For the first time since he arrived on the scene around here, there appears to be a legitimate chance that both his current and former teams for MSG are poised for a deep playoff run.

Only one of them can actually do it, of course, because they would meet in the second round. But think of what fun that would be!

"I would love it -- of course," Micheletti said. "I think an Islanders-Rangers series would just be spectacular."

Butch Goring, Micheletti's counterpart on Islanders telecasts, agreed, saying it would be the final step in reviving what for most of the recent past has been a "ghost rivalry."

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"It would be an unbelievable series," Goring said. "We're all hoping. It would just be fabulous."

Regardless of whether it happens, it already has been a fabulous season for the sport in the New York area, with implications beyond the region.

The fact that the Rangers are the betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup and that the Islanders are one of the better stories in the league is nothing but good for hockey.

NBC and the NHL need all the help they can get in a season in which marquee teams such as the Kings and Bruins did not make the playoff field while five Canadian teams did, after only one qualified in 2014.

Last year's Cup Final: New York vs. Los Angeles. This year: Ottawa vs. Winnipeg?


How important are the Rangers? When they host the Penguins in Game 2 Saturday, it will be the first first-round game in prime time on NBC's broadcast mother ship since it reacquired NHL rights in 2005.

(In the first round, MSG has every Rangers game and MSG Plus every Islanders game, other than weekend games on NBC. Starting with the second round, the locals don't get any games.)

Micheletti believes this season's Rangers are better than the ones who won the conference title last spring, in part because of playoff experience, in part because of personnel improvements.

As for the Islanders, Goring views the series against the Capitals as a toss-up that no sane bettor should touch.

While the Islanders' playoff experience is neither as recent nor as extensive as the Rangers', Goring believes the players who remain from a brief postseason stay two seasons ago will benefit.

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"No doubt about it," he said, recalling the 5-0 rout by the Penguins with which the Islanders started out in 2013. "They didn't know what to expect then."

Further illustrating the importance of New York juice, NBC will deploy its No. 1 team of Doc Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire for Game 2 of Rangers-Penguins and Game 3 of Islanders-Capitals Sunday -- a rare appearance for the Coliseum on national broadcast TV.

Olczyk, a member of the Presidents' Trophy and Cup-winning 1994 Rangers, said the Blueshirts are the "team to beat" in the East. He also said entering the playoffs as the favorites will be a far different experience than last year's unanticipated run.

Does Olczyk believe the rest of the country would embrace an Islanders-Rangers second-round showdown the way the New York area would?

"I would hope so," he said. "I'll try to do my job promoting it. We're a long way away from that . . . but the intensity would be absolutely through the roof."