Yesterday was one of those rare occasions when the Knicks and Rangers played home games on the same date: The Knicks tipped off at noon against the Nets, then they uncovered the ice for the 7 p.m. Rangers–Red Wings matchup. Considering the current state of both teams — the Knicks entered their game with just five wins, and the Rangers have been dropping in the standings for about a month now — attending both games had the potential to be a downright depressing experience. But we did so anyway, for you, the reader. As it turned out, the two games had virtually nothing in common, except that Nate Robinson had about as much chance of playing in either of them. Juxtaposed with each other, the differences between the two experiences were clear, for better or worse.
As of a few days ago, the Knicks-Nets matchup could have been vitally important: Had the Nets not won on Friday night, the Knicks would have been especially motivated to not be their first victim. Instead, it became just another bad NBA matchup. But there’s fun in that, too. Ill-advised shots were met just as often with laughter in our section than with vitriolic boos. A gentleman sitting behind us kept the section in stitches with (mostly) good-natured heckling of Chris Duhon. (Our favorite line, after Duhon was removed from the game for the first time: “Sub Duhon in so you can sub him back out again!”) It was Kids Day, and halftime brought a completely compelling on-court Simon Says contest. And there was the game itself: The Knicks turned a double-digit deficit into a nine-point win. Everyone left the arena happy.
Those that would return at night would not leave so happy. A night after Ryan Callahan and Christopher Higgins scored goals in a win at Buffalo, both would squander quality chances. And a night after Henrik Lundvist played his sharpest game in some time, he’d allow a weak goal to Dan Cleary with 2:03 remaining to break a 1-1 tie. There was cursing. There was pretzel-throwing. No one was trying to be cute with their suggestions that Michal Rozsival be removed from the lineup. (Someone within earshot suggested he be murdered. We’re pretty sure they were kidding.) Perhaps this demonstrates a fundamental difference between basketball and hockey fans, but it probably has more to do with the states of the two teams. When your team just isn’t very good, it’s gallows humor. But there’s nothing funny about a team underachieving.