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Rangers-Islanders rivalry has a new battleground

A general view during the national anthem before

A general view during the national anthem before a game between the New York Islanders and the Arizona Coyotes at Barclays Center on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Hours before the long-boiling rivalry opened in a fresh setting, both the Islanders and Rangers were intrigued. They were excitedly uncertain about what it all would look like and feel like in Brooklyn. They had a pretty good idea what it would sound like, though.

As Kyle Okposo, one of the longer tenured Islanders, said after the Wednesday morning skate, “If people are from Brooklyn and haven’t been at a game, it’s going to get loud really quick. It’s going to be probably louder than it’s been the whole year.”

John Tavares added, “I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out when we’re out there. I don’t expect it to be quiet out there, or to be less intense. We’re just going to be as ready as we can.”

Yes, that meant being ready to hear strong support for the visiting team that always has made its home in New York City. The first interborough game at Barclays Center was an occasion to recognize how disorienting the Islanders’ move really has been. In a way, the rivalry brought a touch of familiarity, even nostalgia, amid all the newness.

“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. I’m excited to see it with the crowd in it and see the intensity level and the atmosphere. We’re used to a great atmosphere at the other rink on Long Island so I’m expecting something pretty similar here in Brooklyn.”

McDonagh said the kickboards at Barclays Center are livelier than those at the Coliseum and the lighting is brighter. The novelty just added to the excitement.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano, who makes it a point to steer far from hyperbole, said, “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 was sure to change that.

Tavares, who entered with 28 points in 31 Rangers games, said that in this rivalry, “Circumstances can be thrown out the window.” That includes geography, and history. He never will forget his first rivalry experience, on Oct. 28, 2009. “It was at the Coliseum. I scored a little bit of a flukey goal late in the third period,” he said. “That was the first time I took in the intensity, understanding the rivalry and how much people in New York care about it.”

Okposo, who scored a goal in the 2008 season finale at the Garden as a rookie, knows that a Rangers-Islanders game is the sort of thing that sparks chatter all day in Long Island Rail Road cars — the likes of which he and teammates take to work these days.

They didn’t experience much talk Wednesday morning. “We took a later train and kind of sat by ourselves,” said the forward who expected to hear much more noise at game time.

New York Sports