For the first time, and possibly the last time, there were happy whoops and relieved shouts coming from Rangers players in the corridor at Barclays Center. The sounds marked the end of a weird streak and wacky situation in which it was hard to tell if it was the Islanders, the Islanders fans or the Rangers who disliked Brooklyn the most.
There is no secret, of course, that the home team and its supporters can’t get out of the borough fast enough. The joyful energy during games at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum is the sort you usually see on the last day of school. Sheer liberation. Barclays Center officials haven’t been crushed about seeing the Islanders leave, either, given reports that they are losing big money on the team’s home dates.
Nothing has been announced, finalized or, as far as we know, even seriously discussed, but there has been speculation (or at least wishful thinking) that the Islanders will move all of their home games to Uniondale after this season until the proposed new arena at Belmont Park is ready.
The odd part in this saga, though, is that until Saturday afternoon, this change-at-Jamaica headache had been a hellish express for the Islanders’ most bitter rival. The Rangers had played seven games at Barclays Center and had lost every one of them (0-6-1). So their 2-1 win was quite satisfying for them, and just in time, in case they never come back.
“We were determined to get a win here, finally, and I thought we played right from minute one. We really battled hard,” said Mika Zibanejad, who assisted on Mats Zuccarello’s game-winner with 5:05 left in the third period.
“I think it’s been talked about for a few games now,” Zibanejad said of the streak. “We were aware of it, but you’ve got to treat every game the same. Just the fact that we lost the last game Thursday, at home, and the way we played in the third [in that game], we really carried the momentum into this game and we did a good job of sticking to it for 60 minutes.”
Brooklyn had loomed like a tree ripe for picking in the rivalry, with the Islanders hoping to gain new customers and the Rangers looking to burnish their status as New York City’s team. Instead, it has been a thorn for both sides. It just has not worked out. The fact that both teams are just beginning climbs toward elite status in the National Hockey League has not helped. Anyone pining for the old animosity in the stands would give the atmosphere during Saturday’s game a Bronx cheer. It was mostly mild.
Promising Rangers teenager Filip Chytil, who scored the tying goal at 14:09 of the second period, did not even know there had been a winless streak on this side of the Brooklyn Bridge. “This was my third game here,” he said. “It’s a nice arena. It’s our rival and it’s always great to play in front of this crowd.”
As for the game itself, the Islanders played less than their best for the third consecutive time in three different New York arenas this week (a loss at Nassau Coliseum and a win at Madison Square Garden previously). Coach Barry Trotz did say his team was sharper than it had been in Manhattan on Thursday, but he added of the Rangers, “I thought they were better, too.”
The Rangers had motivation, if not history, on their side. “A few of us knew. I don’t know if everyone knew,” Marc Staal said. “We didn’t talk about it before the game or anything, but I was well aware of that streak. So it was nice to see that goal go in in the third and for us to be able to hang on.
“There have been quite a few games in here that have been tight, but for whatever reason, we hadn’t been able to figure out a way to come out with two points,” Staal said. “I don’t think we come back here this year. It’s nice that that streak ended so we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
Zibanejad was asked if, all things considered, he likes the place. He said, “I do now.”
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