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The Islanders and Rangers: A rivalry renewed

The National Hockey League is having a pretty mundate season. Of the four divisions, three are controlled rather handily by the team currently secure in the penthouse.

Then there is the Metropolitan Division. Certainly, it was going to be the Pittsburgh Penguins running away with their third consecutive crown. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the charge, Pittsburgh was the odds-on favorite to earn a top seed, while the Eastern Conference-champion New York Rangers lagged behind.

Instead, it is the New York Islanders shocking the hockey world. The Islanders, playing their final season in Nassau Coliseum before relocating to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, are tied atop the Metro with 82 points. The Rangers, also with 82 points and two games in hand, are sporting a 27-6-2 mark over their previous 35 games. Pittsburgh is three points behind, followed by the Washington Capitals who are six points off the pace.

The Islanders and Rangers are blood rivals from back in the days of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Both teams being good at the same time has been nothing but a myth since, until now. The franchises are separated by less than a 30-minute drive, provided you don’t hit massive traffic (good luck with that).

This is a great development for the NHL. The last time hockey was this talked about in the New York City area during the regular season was when a lockout threatened to wipe away another campaign back in 2012-13.

For Islanders fans, they believe the Metro will be theirs because of an elite offense led by John Tavares. Tavares, who has 63 points (29 goals, 34 assists) is pacing a group that ranks second only to the Lightning in goals scored this season.

Rangers fans point to a tremendous defense, anchored by defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Even with Henrik Lundqvist out for a month with a sprained blood vessel in his neck, New York has kept winning with staunch play in front of backup Cam Talbot. The Rangers are no slouch in the offensive zone either, with Rick Nash’s 37 goals, only two behind Alex Ovechkin for the league lead.

So who takes the glory at season’s end? The Rangers have a significant advantage with two more games to play. However, the Islanders have already played 32 road dates compared to only 28 for the Rangers. The regulation wins tiebreaker can’t be called into play because the Rangers only have two more, making it a moot argument for now.

If you believe in Vegas, the Islanders are 9/1 to win the Stanley Cup, with the Rangers at 12/1.

Goal differential favors the Rangers, who sit at +42, a figure 15 greater than the Islanders. Head-to-head matchups are all complete except one, when the foes play on March 10 on the island.

If you are a betting man, take the Rangers because of a better defense, superior goaltender and the games in hand.

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