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Rangers-Islanders rivalry as intense as ever

John Tavares, No. 91 of the Islanders, skates

John Tavares, No. 91 of the Islanders, skates against John Moore, No. 17 of the Rangers, during a game at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

It's an old feud that never gets old: Islanders vs. Rangers. They will meet for the 250th time Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, and for the Islanders -- off to a 2-0 start -- there is the rare modern-day expectation of playing to a second consecutive full house after Saturday night's final Nassau Coliseum season opener.

"Oh, it's always a big game," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the Change-at-Jamaica series. (Next year: The Take The No. 2 Train series from Brooklyn?) "As a coaching staff, you have to channel it, and as I told the players -- guys who haven't played in a Rangers-Islanders game -- 'Buckle up.' It's a battle."

The Rangers (1-2) could use a victory after Sunday night's Garden-opening flop against Toronto. That the Rangers are coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance while the Islanders remain in a longstanding "under construction" mode -- and Rangers fans haven't had to worry about their favorite Islanders villain, Denis Potvin, for the past 27 seasons -- doesn't really figure into the situation.

"I think that's what makes the rivalry great," Islanders captain John Tavares said, "is that you have two such passionate fan bases."

Tavares said he crosses paths with Rangers fans "every day. First they tell me they're a Ranger fan, and I just say 'OK' usually. And when they're kids, you always appreciate them just being hockey fans.

"Sometimes they apologize for being Ranger fans. And I say, 'You don't have to apologize to me. I just like beating you guys.' "

For his new teammates, participating for the first time in this 42-year-old regional squabble, "I don't think you need to say a whole lot," Tavares said. "I think they got a pretty good feel from the atmosphere we had on Saturday and I'm pretty sure we'll see something similar. And, obviously, the two teams, when they play, no matter what, the games are always very intense. So we're looking forward to it."

Notes & quotes: Defenseman Calvin de Haan (upper body injury) participated in practice for the first time since being put on the injured reserve list, but neither he nor Capuano would speculate on his return. "It's not up to me to decide," de Haan said. "We're winning, so Coach may not change the lineup." So de Haan is fully healthy? "I'm not taking any cough medicine or anything," he said . . . Capuano said he might rotate more players on to the penalty-kill unit, which has given up four goals in nine shorthanded situations, especially because his top two players on that unit, Brock Nelson and Frans Nielsen, also are on the first power-play group. The power play has been as good as any in the league at 4-for-8 (the Rangers are 0-for-8).

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