The long wait continues for the next Rangers-Islanders playoff series
The Islanders’ playoff elimination by the Hurricanes on Friday night guaranteed that it will be at least 30 years between Rangers-Islanders postseason meetings.
It is one of the strangest, most statistically improbable streaks in New York-area sports, given the teams’ shared divisional neighborhood.
After all manner of playoff matchups over the decades between the two New York teams and familiar foes such as the Penguins, Capitals, Hurricanes and Panthers, we have been denied the most delicious local rivalry of all.
The last time the teams met in the postseason, in 1994, Rangers captain Jacob Trouba was not quite two months old and Mark Messier was known mostly as a guy who had won a bunch of Stanley Cups in Edmonton. Then he won another with the Rangers.
Instead of meeting one another next week, now the Islanders are done, and the Rangers faced Game 6 against the Devils at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night just trying to survive to see a Game 7 in Newark on Monday.
Win or lose for the Rangers, the matchup with the Devils has larger implications for both franchises on the eastern side of the Hudson River.
Why? Because while the Islanders and Rangers are trying to squeeze out another championship run while their veteran cores are viable, the Devils will not be going anywhere anytime soon.
They came out of nowhere for an ahead-of-schedule rise up the Metropolitan Division standings this season, and they have demonstrated against the Rangers that they very much belong in the playoffs.
They also are very young and very fast and against the Rangers have featured the best non-goaltender on the ice in Jack Hughes.
The budding superstar is 21 years old and the kind of dynamic, camera-ready player and person the NHL needs in its forever-uphill battle to market itself.
He’s even American!
And because the NHL playoff format heavily favors creating divisional matchups, the Rangers, Islanders and everyone else in the Metro likely will have to get past Hughes and his friends to get anywhere over the next few years.
Hughes’ contract runs through the 2029-30 season, if you’re scoring at home. The Rangers’ Chris Kreider will be turning 39 early in that year’s playoffs, and fans will be taking flying cars to games.
At least by then the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin will be retired and out of the Rangers’ and Islanders’ hair . . . right?
Many have argued that the NHL format would be fairer if it went to a conference-wide seeding system. That at least would mix things up for first-round matchups.
But so far, the NHL has shown no inclination to go down that road.
So the usual suspects will continue battling it out with one another next season and beyond.
The past two weeks have illustrated the fun that can be had by local hockey fans when everyone is involved.
The Garden has centered a playoff line with the Prudential Center at left wing and UBS Arena at ring wing, and win or lose, the entertainment value has been delicious.
Saturday was the ninth day in the past 12 with an NHL playoff game in one of the area’s three arenas. And it was the 12th time in 13 days that either the Rangers or Islanders were in action, counting the Islanders’ three games in Raleigh.
The Rangers are better situated to contend over the next couple of years than are the Islanders, given that while one team is old the other is older.
Both feature world-class young goalies in Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin. But it is not clear how much even that means given what has gone on with the Devils against the Rangers.
Obscure rookie goalie Akira Schmid entered Game 6 having won three games in a row in his first career playoff run. If he pans out as a long-term keeper, that will make things even more difficult in the division.
Time will tell. The good news is that with everyone in the area now in playoff mode, there should be more intriguing Aprils ahead.
It can be fun when the right standings alchemy produces tense rivalry matchups.
It would be a lot more fun if the Islanders and Rangers ever found a way to meet one another when it matters most.