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Too quiet for a rivalry game such as Rangers-Islanders

The New York Rangers prepare to face off

The New York Rangers prepare to face off against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 16, 2021. Credit: AP/Bruce Bennett

When it was over, the Rangers raised their sticks in tribute to fans after their first home victory of the season, because, well . . . why not? Consider it socially distanced waving through supporters’ television screens.

But the amusing coda to a 5-0 win over the Islanders at Madison Square Garden served to illustrate a less-than-amusing situation.

Not complaining here, just being honest: This one hurts.

Sure, we all have gotten accustomed to sports events contested in fan-free facilities, from the Bronx to Queens to East Rutherford and beyond.

But Islanders-Rangers? At the Garden?

And not a word from the stands during a game in which the Rangers won in a blowout, made Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin look shaky in his first NHL start, saw newly re-signed Isles star Mathew Barzal commit three offensive-zone penalties, and had Ross Johnston take two minor penalties and a 10-minute misconduct in the final minutes?

Safety first, of course, and we still are a long way from opening the gates to paying customers around here.

Still, Saturday night’s second game in three nights between the teams felt like even more of a downer than the empty seats at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and MetLife Stadium.

Hockey and basketball are played in smaller indoor settings, making fans a more visceral part of the scene and mood than in those outdoor stadiums.

Plus: It was Islanders-Rangers!

Both teams experienced the sounds of silence — other than fake crowd noise and loud music — when they competed in the playoff bubble, the Isles for far longer than the Rangers.

And both said that experience helped normalize Thursday’s opener, in which the Islanders routed the Rangers, 4-0, with nary a boo from the absent home fans. But that did not make the unfamiliar vibe in a familiar venue any less peculiar.

"We all went through the bubble," Rangers coach David Quinn said after Thursday’s game. "But when I walked down the bench, I looked at Jacques [Martin, his assistant] and said, ‘You think you’re prepared for this, but boy, it really is odd when you walk down the bench and there’s no one in the building and you don’t hear a peep.’ ’’

As has been the case with all sports in empty facilities, TV magic makes things less strange for viewers at home than the reality inside the arenas.

The fake crowd noise at least generates some background buzz, but it is more distracting than inspiring in person.

Things will get even more odd starting on Monday when the Islanders host the Bruins in the final home opener at Nassau Coliseum and no one will be there to greet them.

"It’s been so long since we’ve played a game in front of fans, honestly, especially at the Coliseum," Cal Clutterbuck said. "It’ll just be business as usual, I think."

After the game, Trotz said of Sorokin, "We hung him out to dry." He said of Barzal’s penalties, "That can’t happen. That’s a sin to me." He said of the shot in warmups that injured would-be starting goalie Semyon Varlamov, "It’s almost unacceptable."

He said of his team, "We were junk today."

All of those developments would have made Rangers fans giddy, had they been present.

But alas. At 13:46 of the first period, Artemi Panarin skated in alone on Sorokin and beat him cleanly for the first of his two goals and a 2-0 Rangers lead.

The fake crowd did not react at first. About a second later, it burst into a loud, fake cheer.

Sigh. Come back soon, real fans.

New York Sports