The Difference Between The New York Rangers & Islanders Is Simple: John Tavares
Mar 27, 2017; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) plays the puck against the Nashville Predators during the first period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There’s one distinct difference between the New York Rangers and Islanders, and it comes in the form of captain John Tavares.

Hockey fans who grew up in the 1990s will understand the following.

Perhaps the greatest video game of all-time, NHL 94 from EA Sports, was a shrine to hockey’s explosion during the early 90s. Wayne Gretzky, the New York Rangers success, and ESPN did a lot for the movement. Therefore, NHL 94 was being played and obsessed over by kids across North America.

Yeah, they did take fighting out of that version, which was a thorn in everybody’s side, but what could you do.

The game came with a setting that would allow two very different styles of play. On one hand you could leave line changes off and just play 5-on-5 the entire game. It was an arcade style that would feature the game’s best.

On the other hand, the more hardened hockey kid would turn line changes on and have the entire team at his/her disposal.

If it was up to Jack Capuano, we know what setting he’d select in any game he coaches for his New York Islanders.

Cap would turn line changes “off” because John Tavares is one of the best hockey players in the world.

If Alain Vigneault had to make this choice, it wouldn’t be much of a decision at all. He’d be forced to leave line changes “on.”

First off, did you see the guy last night? My goodness, goodness gracious (queue Suzyn Waldman).

As the Isles were in desperate need of a goal in the third period, anything Tavares wanted to do, he did. The difference in him not scoring on almost every trip he took inside the Florida Panthers zone was Roberto Luongo standing on his head.

Spin-o-ramas, insane puck control, pinpoint passing – The Isles captain simply made life miserable for the Panthers.

He, of course, tied the game with under a minute left in regulation, and then won it in epic fashion in double-overtime to send the Isles to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1993:

What the Isles possess, the Rangers simply do not: A bonafide NHL superstar in the prime of his career.

The detractors will point to the fact the Blueshirts have experienced an insane amount of success in comparison to the Isles the last decade-plus. Their 76 playoff games from 2012 through 2015 is the most in the league. They’ve essentially played another regular season during the spring time.

This is all true. The Rangers have been the more dominant, decorated team.

Now, though, the run is over without once hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

At 34-years of age, Henrik Lundqvist isn’t what he used to be, and his hefty (and absurd) $8.5 million salary will cripple the Rangers salary cap over the next five seasons. This is why some onlookers suggested The King be traded last offseason, but I digress.

Rick Nash was supposed to be that superstar-like player, but he’s been anything but. The Nash supporters will point to his overall game, his point production in the playoffs this season (four points in five games), and seasons like a year ago when he tallied 42 goals.

The truth is, what Nash provides just isn’t Nashty enough. He doesn’t fill his hefty payday of $7.8 million a year and he doesn’t fill those superstar shoes the Rangers so desperately needed the last few seasons.

When Tavares has the puck, the entire building feels magic is about to happen. When Nash has the puck, an overwhelming sense of ordinary is in the air.

The NHL isn’t the NBA. There’s no question about that.

A hockey team’s depth is much more critical in comparison to the basketball squad. The LeBron James’s and Stephen Curry’s of the world make a world of difference on the hardwood, while the fourth line of a Stanley Cup Champion contributes to an invaluable degree.

Don’t be confused, though.

Take a look at the Stanley Cup Champions over the last eight seasons:

  • 2009: Pittsburgh Penguins
  • 2010: Chicago Blackhawks
  • 2011: Boston Bruins
  • 2012: Los Angeles Kings
  • 2013: Chicago Blackhawks
  • 2014: Los Angeles Kings
  • 2015: Chicago Blackhawks

What is the major theme among most of these teams?

The answer? Superstars have led the way.

Names such as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Quick have made a ridiculous difference.

The only championship team on this list who closely resembles these Rangers teams of the last half-decade are the Bruins who were led by a hot goaltender in Tim Thomas and a very deep, tough, solid squad.

The Pens, Hawks and Kings have more star power on the ice than anybody in the league.

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The Rangers have enjoyed Hank’s work in between the pipes, but have never possessed that superstar skater. Ryan McDonagh has been the closest thing. In 2013-14 he really shined. Since then, injuries have made the kid look more like 37, not 27.

Guys like Derek Stepan and Derrick Brassard are nice second-line centers. They’re not studs. Wings such as Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello are excellent contributors to a top-six grouping. They’re not bonafide NHL superstars.

Where the Isles have succeeded this year the Rangers have failed in the past.

If the Rangers had a John Tavares during the run of 2014 or the Presidents’ Trophy winning season of 2015, their goal of a Stanley Cup Championship would have been realized. Those Blueshirts scratched, clawed and battled every step of the way. They just didn’t have that one guy who could get them over the top.

During Game 6 on Sunday night, the Isles were doing everything they could to play with line changes “off.” No. 91 couldn’t see the ice enough. He assumed responsibility and took control like a legend.

Unfortunately for Vigneault, he’s forced to play with line changes “on.” He doesn’t have that superstar.

NEXT: John Tavares Ties The Game, And Then Wins The Game For The New York Islanders (Highlights)

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