It will take everyone a while to get used to the four Stanley Cup banners hanging from strange rafters. And the presence of an off-centered scoreboard and limited-view seats tell the struggle of squeezing a rink into a basketball arena. Regardless of all those unusual circumstances, though, the Islanders-Rangers rivalry was a perfect fit last night for the Barclays Center.
The long-running feud moved into a fresh setting without missing a step. The teams’ first meeting in Brooklyn was the latest in a string of gems—a night full of energy and angst that ended with a 2-1 win for the Islanders in a shootout.
Jaroslav Halak finished it by blocking Dan Boyle’s low-speed attempt, completing a whitewash of the Rangers’ shooters. Kyle Okposo’s leadoff successful shot against Henrik Lundqvist was the only one that went in.
That came after a pulsating overtime during which the Islanders withstood a penalty for having too many men on the ice. The whole thing made for a memorable night.
Maybe the rivalry would be just as intense if it were played on a barge on the East River. Who knows? As Islanders captain John Tavares said, when these teams meet, “Circum stances can be thrown out the window.”
This time, circumstance was the occasional quiet in the Islanders’ new arena early in this first season. The two teams gave the place new life last night.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano, who makes it a point to steer far from hyperbole, said earlier yesterday, “I’ll be honest with you. To me, this will be the biggest atmosphere we’ve had in this building. It’s going to be loud. It’s a home game for us, but just like at the Coliseum, they’ve got a lot of fans here, too.”
His team has become more comfortable in its new digs, entering this game with three wins in the past four games at Barclays Center and 8-4-2 there overall. But it has not experienced the electricity that powered the final season at Nassau Coliseum. The first visit from the Rangers changed that.
It was an event as well as a game, with the novelty of the venue dovetailing with the familiarity of the rivalry. Starting about 20 minutes before the game, it was loud. The sea of sound was pretty balanced. During one stretch early in the second period, there was a determined chant of “Jar-O!” when Halak made a pad save on Derick Brassard, followed immediately with the sound of “Zooooook” as Mats Zuccarello chased the puck in the Rangers’ offensive zone.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in this building,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said after the morning skate. “It’s fresh, it’s clean. You can tell it’s a new look. We’re used to a great atmosphere at the other rink on Long Island so I’m expecting the same thing here.”
Check. The atmosphere influenced the play, and vice versa. John Tavares, who entered with 28 points in 31 New York-New York games, converted a five-on-three opportunity. He cut left from the right circle, and whipped the puck past Lundqvist at 12:22 of the second. The Rangers tied it at 18:37 as Viktor Stalberg tipped Marc Staal’s shot past Halak.
Each one brought a roar from fans who hope to see a playoff series between these teams, and that would be worth watching wherever it was played.