Deal with it, non-believers: It’s hockey season, and the enlightened among us plan to fully embrace the fun over the next two weeks and potentially far beyond.
The Islanders get it going against the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Monday night, after which the Rangers will visit the Devils on Tuesday night.
Monday night began a 15-day stretch during which as many as 14 Stanley Cup playoff games could be contested involving the Rangers or Islanders. Up to 10 of those would be played in the immediate New York area, including five days in a row beginning this weekend.
But . . .
As much excitement as all this should and will generate, it comes with an asterisk for fans of both the Islanders and Rangers.
This ain’t the 2022 Giants, whose fans were so happy about the franchise’s rebirth that a blowout loss to the rival Eagles in the wild-card round was no biggie.
It ain’t even the 2022-23 Knicks, most of whose fans would consider a first-round playoff series victory over the Cavaliers the marker of a successful season.
To bring it back to hockey, the Devils are young and fast and came out of nowhere this season, so this playoff stuff mostly is gravy.
Not so for the Islanders and Rangers, two teams built to win now — period. Both have young stars in goal and less-than-young stars in key roles everywhere else.
The fact that their betting prospects range from middle-of-the-pack (Rangers) to biggest-longshot-in-the-field (Islanders) matters not.
Anything short of a deep run will be deeply disappointing for both teams.
President/GM/enigmatic potentate Lou Lamoriello explicitly has bet on the aging core that took the Islanders to back-to-back NHL semifinals in 2020 and ’21.
At every turn, he has opted for stability over change, other than his bombshell decision last offseason to replace Barry Trotz with Lane Lambert as head coach.
The Identity Line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck is symbolic of that stick-to-what-works approach.
Aside from Martin’s two-year detour to Toronto, it seems like these guys have been together since . . . let me check my notes, since this does not seem possible.
Their style is an ideal fit for the playoffs — just as the Islanders’ style more broadly is suited to this time of year. But still: 2014!
The Islanders do have key players in their primes, including Mathew Barzal, Bo Horvat and Adam Pelech. But, well, to put a positive spin on it, the players have had many good bonding opportunities attending one another’s 30th birthday parties.
The Rangers seem better situated not only to make a run this season but to be a contender again in 2023-24. But they are not young either.
They have a Kid Line, which is what its nickname suggests, and there is youth on defense, led by Jericho’s favorite 25-year-old, Adam Fox.
But Mika Zibanejad will celebrate his 30th birthday Tuesday, and Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider are both 31.
And the Rangers did not add Vladimir Tarasenko then upend the roster to bring in Patrick Kane, too, with an eye on the future. The future is now.
Is all this good or bad? It is good for drama and tension and high stakes, which is what the playoffs are supposed to be about.
But it is bad for fans’ collective blood pressure.
If the Islanders and Rangers both are ousted in the first round, it will not surprise oddsmakers, but it will be a blow to both franchises.
If the Islanders and Rangers both survive, they will meet in the second round — ending a 29-year playoff drought for the rivalry.
Now that would make for elite hockey drama, not only because the matchup has been so long in the making, but because of the states of both rosters.
Time is the common enemy.