The Islanders very nearly lost this one with an awful first period, coming out sluggish, losing seemingly every puck battle and letting the Rangers hem them in their own zone for agonizingly long stretches. That inevitably led to a 2-0 Rangers lead, but Zenon Konopka knocked a rebound out of the air in the final minute of the first to keep it a game at 2-1.
And thank Bossy for that, because this one turned into a wild affair that, aside from the result, was an absolute thrill to watch.
In the second, the Isles killed an early Rangers powerplay convincingly -- Matt Martin, Zenon Konopka, Andrew MacDonald, Radek Martinek and Blake Comeau each contributing to the kill. They followed that up with their first real offensive pressure of the game and it appeared the tide might be turning. Sure enough, by the midway point the Isles got two quick goals to tie and take the lead -- a pretty three-way play from P.A. Parenteau to John Tavares to Matt Moulson, plus a Rob Schremp Hockey long shot. It wouldn't be the last momentum 180.
Schremp's goal elicited a quick yank of Martin Biron (who honestly looked shaky throughout), and the tide reversed again, with the Rangers capitalizing on some wild bounces. A ping-pong bounce off Rick DiPietro and off Andrew MacDonald's glove created one Rangers goal, then on the PK a Zenon Konopka interception (it would have been an easy conversion if he hadn't reached in) led to another to make it 4-3 for the Smurfs. The third opened with a third consecutive Rangers goal.
Despite that deflating setback, it remained a game throughout, and it's a nice sign that Michael Grabner and Blake Comeau helped claw it back to a 5-5 tie again. Alas, 25 seconds later against the same Schremp-Comeau line, Marian Gaborik boxed James Wisniewski out down low to smack home the rebound, the game-winning goal, and his third of the night that brought a few hats down from the invading fans.
Notes and What-Not
- Impressive fight by Trevor Gillies with the gargantuan Derek Boogaard, who actually KO'd Gillies many moons ago in Gillies's first NHL fight. Funny to see Trevor play the crouching tiger to avoid falling prey to Boogaard's long reach. That one was exhausting to watch, and each combatant held up well.
- Can we ascribe the ugly first to rusty legs after a long layoff? It seemed comically bad, but not so much from poor decisions as from just general inertia and slowness. Even the Isles' best players looked a step behind in that period, and everyone was losing battles and making the Rangers' jobs easier. Thankfully that didn't spoil the night and there remained plenty of entertaining hockey to see.
- Six goals against, but these goals were mostly not mistakes by DiPietro. Can't say the same for Biron, who looked like 2009-10 First Half Islander Biron.
- Matt Martin had an active game -- credited with six hits plus a fight -- but he was on for all of Gaborik's goals as well as the first goal which came at the end of a period of sustained Rangers pressure. Not pinning those on him; just noting.
- Andrew MacDonald's return was welcome, and despite that tough luck bounce he had a pretty nice game to these eyes. Nothing fancy on the box score, but 22+ minutes and generally sound positional play.
- Despite coming out on the short end, simply a relief to see offense from these Isles, particularly five even strength goals.
- Anyone think Grabner's play is on a slow but promising uptick? Technically, he could even enter Calder discussions by the end of the season, which would be an unexpected turn for the two franchises who gave up on him...
This fun resumes Friday night for the rematch at the Garden. For those available, there is the Puck Daddy viewing party at the Irish Times right around the corner. If you're there for any of the pre-game or first period, maybe I'll see you there. (I'll wear a white Frans 51 unless sartorial whim changes.)