For four consecutive days, people in sports jerseys of various colors moved in, out and around Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan. For some, it was their destination. For others, it was a changing point. But for fans of five teams in two sports in one metropolitan area, it was a hub for that incomparable and captivating springtime buzz: the playoffs.
Across the United States and Canada, many cities are hosting playoff games in professional basketball and hockey. But nowhere was the action more abundant than in the New York metropolitan area, where all five professional winter season teams were in the postseason.
It was the first time the five local teams had been in the playoffs at the same time since 1994, the year Madison Square Garden was the pulsating star at the core of the sports universe. The Rangers and the Knicks traded nights at the Garden from April to June that spring, right through to the finals of the N.H.L. and N.B.A. playoffs, and the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. Along the way, all five teams played dates in that one arena during the playoffs.
This year, by Sunday, three of the teams had played at the Garden, but all five — the Islanders in Nassau County, N.Y.; the Nets in Brooklyn; the Knicks and the Rangers in Manhattan; and the Devils in Newark, N.J. — competed somewhere in the relatively condensed metro area in first-round playoff games.
“There’s a buzz in the area, for sure,” Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock said after his team pounded the visiting Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1, on Friday.
It was the first playoff game held at two-year-old UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y., about a 35-minute ride from Penn Station on the Long Island Rail Road. The same night, basketball fans could ride that rail line (or the subway) to Penn Station, walk upstairs, and see the Knicks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 99-79, at the Garden in Game 3 of that series.
The crowd and the building were ready for the moment, and Knicks guard Jalen Brunson called the atmosphere “unreal.”
“Being in this environment, there is no other replica,” he said. “There is nothing that comes close to it.”
These playoff runs for the New York area’s teams, which have been germinating for a couple of years, began on Thursday, when the Devils and the Rangers played in Newark for Game 2 of that series. Some fans from New York hopped on a New Jersey Transit train from Penn Station, including many Rangers fans who infiltrated the Prudential Center, home of the Devils. At the same time, barely 14 miles away, the Nets, who once shared an arena with the Devils in East Rutherford, N.J., hosted the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center, and lost Game 3.
The basketball playoffs continued in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon, but they came to an end for the Nets, who were eliminated in a first-round sweep by the 76ers.
But anyone looking for more playoff action could have taken the No. 2 train back to Penn Station to see the Rangers welcome the Devils in Game 3 on Saturday night at the Garden, where the Devils won in overtime, 2-1, cutting the Rangers’ lead in that series to 2-1. On Sunday, the Knicks beat the Cavaliers, 102-93, at the Garden to take a 3-1 lead in that series. At UBS Arena on Sunday, the Islanders lost to the Hurricanes, 5-2, and now trail in that series, 3-1.
Eight playoff games in four arenas in four days involving five local teams: It’s a New York-New Jersey playoff bonanza.
“It’s awesome for local fans,” Islanders winger Kyle Palmieri said. “I grew up as a local fan, and I watched all these teams.”
He also played for two of them. Palmieri was born on Long Island, in Smithtown, N.Y., and moved with his family to Montvale, N.J., as a boy. He played for the Devils from 2015 until he was traded to the Islanders in 2021, just in time to participate in the Isles’ last game at the old Nassau Coliseum — a 3-2 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 23, 2021.
Now, even with his focus on his own club’s series against Carolina, he can marvel at all the local teams playing at once.
“It’s a special thing to have everyone involved,” he said. “It doesn’t happen too often.”
More than 140,000 attendees were expected through Sunday’s playoff games. One of them was Lucas Whitehead, 27, a Canadian who was in the area to attend a conference at the United Nations. He bought an Islanders jersey and marveled at the atmosphere for the UBS Arena’s first playoff game.
“The energy in here was like nothing I’ve seen before,” he said after Friday’s game. “I’ve been to a lot of arenas. We went to M.S.G. and the Prudential Center, and I’ve been to a lot in Canada. This was the craziest.”
But the Garden came to life again on Saturday, for the Rangers-Devils game. The Rangers fans made their presence felt in Newark, but at home, when their team scores and the crowd sings their goal song and the walls vibrate, it can create a swell of momentum for the team.
“It’s amazing — it’s one of the cooler experiences you’ll have,” Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said after practice on Friday, about two hours after the Knicks practiced at the same building in Westchester County, N.Y. “It’s hard to explain it to someone who’s not on the ice and doesn’t get to be part of it in that moment.”
As the playoffs move into May, the number of local teams will dwindle. But there could be more excitement ahead. If the Rangers and the Islanders win their series, the two rivals, whose fan bases generally loathe each other, would meet in the second round, their first postseason encounter since the Rangers swept the Islanders in that fateful spring of ’94.
That would suit Filip Chytil, the Rangers center who is originally from the Czech Republic. Before joining the Rangers in 2017, Chytil played one year professionally for the Czech team PSG Zlin and said its rivalry with H.C. Kometa Brno was fiery. But playing the Islanders in New York would be even more intense.
“That would be great,” Chytil said Friday. “It’s a big ‘if’ at this moment. But we wouldn’t have to travel very much. Just take a bus.”
Or, if the team prefers, there are plenty of trains in and out of Penn Station.