Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
Newsday readers were greeted Sunday morning by a sports section cover featuring John Tavares in mid-yell, his left arm raised in triumph after a big moment earlier in the Islanders’ first-round series against the Panthers.
The Rangers? Old news already, sent packing by the Penguins about 12 hours before the papers were delivered and five years to the day since their last first-round exit.
Islanders headline: “ONE MORE!” in big type. Rangers: “NO MORE” in small type.
So it goes, and things are going the Islanders’ way at last in the latest turn in the New York area’s best sports rivalry — even if the teams haven’t met in the playoffs since 1994.
That is not to say that the Rangers are headed back to their dark, pre-Lundqvist days of the late 1990s to early 2000s.
When the dust settles on their flop against the Penguins and the roster is retooled for another try in 2016-17, most pieces of a 101-point team will remain, with a franchise goaltender and some young talent in the fold.
But still . . . there was no denying the end-of-an-era vibe in Pittsburgh as the Rangers were skated out of the rink by the hottest team in the NHL, abruptly ending what had been a heck of a run during the past several seasons.
Henrik Lundqvist is 34 and remains the only true star on the roster, even though others are paid to be. The offense lacks difference-makers and the defense is creaky and unreliable.
By the end, it was difficult to believe they were the same Rangers who got off to a scorching start, back when New York was distracted by the Mets’ World Series run.
Even then, they were doing it mostly with mirrors and Lundqvist’s heroics. Their true selves were revealed in an up-and-down path back to the playoffs and, finally, the throttling by the Penguins.
It was a shockingly thorough mismatch by the standards of the unpredictable NHL playoffs, in which “puck luck” always plays a role. Yikes.
But it could be worse, much worse. The Rangers have made the playoffs six years in a row and will enter next season at least in the mix.
Ask New York-area pro football and basketball fans if they would sign up for that.
Some perspective: Pro teams have two jobs — entertaining us and winning championships. This group of Rangers surely has succeeded at the former even as it has come up short on the latter.
They deserve credit for that.
But for now, the show is over in Manhattan as it goes on in Brooklyn, where the Islanders are busy creating an era of their own even as they, too, face roster complications come summer.
That is good for the sport around here, and it will set us up for more drama when everyone reconvenes come autumn, along with a rising young Devils team across the Hudson.
So all is not lost, Rangers fans. But the team as we have known it in recent years is no more.