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Henrik Lundqvist major figure in Rangers-Isles rivalry

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers makes

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers makes a first-period save on a shot from Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

In this season of local hockey nostalgia, it was only fitting that a milestone such as this would surface. Henrik Lundqvist Tuesday night played the Islanders for a 50th time. That might not be worthy of a Nassau Coliseum time capsule, but it does cement his place in the rivalry.

Unlike many of the previous 49, the Rangers lost this one, 4-1, at the Coliseum. And for a change, after the Islanders' third goal, their fans took the opportunity to derisively sing his first name.

Don't blame him, though. That goal went in off Ryan McDonagh's stick. And Lundqvist did keep his team in it early. Chalk up the result more to the run the Islanders are on this season: 3-0-0 against the Rangers.

That Lundqvist was such a focal point only reinforced the notion that he has become a permanent part of the unique Rangers-Islanders relationship -- just like all the old familiar chants and songs.

Regardless of having been stuck in Long Island traffic Monday afternoon while most people were in a rush to beat the storm, the Rangers looked as if they couldn't wait to get back to playing hockey after the All-Star break. The pace was swift, the hitting intense.

"There's not a lot of like going on with either side, so it's probably the one you want to have right away because everybody will be emotionally engaged,'' associate coach Scott Arniel said after the morning skate. "Obviously, these guys are No. 1 in the division, sitting right above us, and we haven't had much luck against them this year.''

But Lundqvist has had his share of luck against them for the past 10 years, although you can't really call it luck when a fellow has a 29-14-5 record (with five shutouts) against a team, as he had against the Islanders heading into Tuesday night. In his previous four road games against the rival (including one at Yankee Stadium), he had gone 4-0-0 with a 0.99 goals-against average and .967 save percentage.

So it was no shock that in a rousing first period Tuesday night, he was the Rangers' best player. He had to be, to keep the deficit at 1-0. His teammates had repeated lapses in the Rangers' zone. He stopped Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen on rushes and stopped hard shots by Thomas Hickey and Nick Leddy.

Nothing new there. Lundqvist has had many interesting meetings with the Islanders. Who could forget the time he refused to yield the crease when one of the Islanders Ice Girls tried to sweep away the snow? There was a connection between him and his team's territorial rival right from the start. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2000, 205th overall -- 204 choices after the Islanders made Rick DiPietro the first goalie ever taken first overall.

Those two had some good duels over the years, and could have had more if DiPietro had been healthy.

In any case, while it wasn't his favorite, a 50th Rangers-Islanders game for Lundqvist was a tribute to his durability and consistency -- and a sign that he is a fixture in an unrivaled rivalry.

New York Sports