Colin McDonald and the Islanders skated on the ice for the first time Tuesday. Credit: Getty Images
New York City has played host to the Rangers-Islanders feud 124 times. The 125th, though, will be a bit different.
Instead of the teams meeting in Midtown, they will gather in the Bronx. Instead of filling Madison Square Garden, the rivals have sold out Yankee Stadium.
Wednesday night’s Rangers-Islanders Stadium Series game in the big ball yard on 161st Street and River Ave. will be another chapter in a rivalry that has seen fans of both teams literally and figuratively take it outside.
“It’s amazing,” Matt Martin said after the Islanders practice at the Stadium late Tuesday afternoon. “It really is everything and more than we thought it would be. It’s not every day you get to do something like this. Even now, when I was out there for the first five or 10 minutes skating around, looking around at the big Yankee Stadium sign, seeing all the seats, it’s pretty special and definitely something we’ll never forget.”
The outdoor game will be the second held at Yankee Stadium in three days. The Rangers routed the Devils, 7-3, Sunday afternoon. It will be an event in a town that specializes in events. But, as both teams readily acknowledged, there is serious business at hand.
“We have to focus on what we have to do and play the way that we have to do,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. “I thought a few games we got away from it — I wouldn’t say totally got away from it — [and] we need a few guys to step up and play better as well.”
Even though this season has not gone as the Islanders had hoped, they have given the Rangers fits in the three games the squads have played this season. The Islanders have won two of the first three meetings by an aggregate 12-9 margin. After Wednesday, the teams will meet just once more in the regular season — Friday night at the Garden.
"They're a hard-working team," captain Ryan Callahan told reporters following the Rangers practice in their Greenburgh, N.Y., training facility. "[The] last time we played them at home they came at us pretty hard and I don't think we played our best. We have to expect them to be hard on the forecheck. They like to create turnovers and that top line is pretty dangerous."
While the Rangers and Islanders don't agree on much outside of their mutual loathing of the other, both sides recognized the weather conditions tomorrow night will not favor one over the other. According to Weather.com, the expected temperature tomorrow night will be 14 degrees.
"I'm going to wear a turtleneck tomorrow but it's pretty warm on the bench," Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo said. "[We'll] see what happens."
Despite the expected weather conditions, the Rangers and Islanders fully expect the scene at the Stadium to create more than enough heat.
"The crowd, the atmosphere, it's pretty easy to get up for these games," Callahan said. "You're going to be excited. I don't think it's going to be hard to get up for the game. You're still at Yankee Stadium. You feed off the atmosphere, off the energy. I don't anticipate us needing to work on getting ourselves up. It'll be there."
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter@DenisGorman.