Anthony Duclair of the Rangers is checked in the second...

Anthony Duclair of the Rangers is checked in the second period by Matt Martin of the Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The most recent baseball season did not go quite as New Yorkers had hoped. Neither did the football season.

Then the basketball season started, and against all odds, things got even worse.

So let us take a moment to give thanks to our metropolitan-area sports saviors, just in time for their meeting at Madison Square Garden tonight.

It's hockey season, New York!

"I am pretty excited about it," MSG analyst and former Islander Butch Goring said of the Islanders-Rangers game, which will feature two of the best teams in the sport so far this season. "It's been a long time since the game had some meaning. We always talk about the rivalry, but the standings dictate it wasn't nearly as important for so many years now."

That's not the case this season, with the Rangers proving their run to the Stanley Cup Final was no fluke and the Islanders proving their young promise was ready for reality at last.

Just to drive home the point that it's hockey time in Big Town, the woeful Knicks are leaving not only the Garden but the continent. (They play in London on Thursday.)

There is no more objective measure of sports interest than TV ratings, and they tell a stark story. Through 36 games on MSG, the Rangers are averaging 1.54 percent of area homes -- up 27 percent from this point last season -- and the Knicks are averaging 1.71, down 24 percent.

Assuming the Knicks continue to lose and the Rangers continue to win, the Rangers have a good chance to out-rate the Knicks for the full season, which would be extraordinary, given basketball's far larger following.

The Islanders are averaging 0.53 percent of area homes, up 26 percent from this point in 2013-14.

"Right now it's the Rangers and the Islanders, and they're front and center in the New York media," Goring said. "For me, that's a real pleasant change -- the talk of the town, so to speak."

Rangers radio analyst Dave Maloney, a veteran of the fierce Rangers-Islanders battles of the 20th century, said he is looking forward to the buzz at the Garden and hopes it rocks the way the Coliseum has of late.

"It's a little more lively and a little more energetic," Maloney said. "The Coliseum gets beat up a lot, but there's a certain kind of vibe up there."

The anticipation surrounding Tuesday night's game is reflected on the resale market, where the least costly ticket was going for about $200 as of Monday afternoon, with far higher asking prices than that for good seats.

The Islanders' on-ice success has made it easier not to dwell on the reality that will hit in April, May or June. There is so much going on now that the team's move to Brooklyn in the fall is an afterthought.

"I think really from the opening faceoff,'' Goring said, "everybody has thought little about what might happen in the future and more about what's happening in the present."

Maloney said he is happy the current generation of players and fans will be "treated to the Rangers-Islanders thing." He said both teams are set up well for their meetings to be relevant for the next several years.

"I'm hoping the Garden has that good, old New York thing going," Maloney said, even if it is only mid-January. "It would be tremendous if this was the opening day of the playoffs, but I'm not going to complain. It should be fun."