The New York Islanders and New York Rangers fought the cold, the wind, the bouncing puck and some choppy ice to ultimately produce a close Stadium Series game whose outcome was in doubt until the final horn.
After the teams swapped goals late in the second period, a Rangers counterattack 4:36 into the third period proved the difference in a 2-1 Rangers win.
The game had to be a hit for 50,027 freezing fans, for the league (and its omnipresent sponsors) and maybe even Yankee Stadium. But it's a gut-punch loss for the Islanders at a time when they need points to go into the Olympic break thinking their season still has relevance.
Pre-Game: Battle Level Up
To the delight of LHHers everywhere, NBC Sports showed Jack Capuano's pre-game talk to the Isles in a spacious Yankees locker room where you could see approximately four players as he strolled around its vast expanse. The focus was to beware the ice and not get too cute in the neutral zone, try to work offense behind the Rangers net, and watch the Rangers activating a defenseman to be the fourth man on the rush.
First Period: I want it slow and bouncy
Two things that were immediately noticeable:
1. The puck was bouncing on the outdoor ice from the beginning, and there would be no getting around it. Rebounds, diagonal passes, and anything near the boards was at risk of popping over a stick or bouncing into a danger area. The teams adjusted, mostly, and you could see them think twice before making precise plays to try to consider the risks.
2. On that note, that made power plays much less dangerous since the ability to make quick, long-distance passing plays was jeopardized. The Isles had two first-period power plays, but could only generate conservative possession and shots from outside.
The Isles arguably had more jump in the first period and were able to sustain more lengthy offensive forays, but again neither side had any meaningful threats. The Rangers' best might have been by Rick Nash who, one-on-one against Lubomir Visnovsky, spun a backhand off Visnovsky's skate that could have surprised Evgeni Nabokov if he wasn't on his toes.
The refs called an early penalty when Brad Richards hooked Thomas Vanek (Richards had a case for a slash by Vanek before that). Then they went quite for a while, most notably ignoring a ridiculous blindside hit by Dan Boyle on Calvin de Haan, who did not have the puck. Interference, should have been. Soon after, a possible makeup interference was called on Mats Zuccarello after his pick would have created a Rangers scoring chance from the slot.
That power play took the game to the first intermission, with the score still 0-0.
Second Period: Build it, and goals will come
The next period began with some better scoring chances from the Isles, but no actual shots on them thanks to outdoor ice. John Tavares fed Thomas Vanek at the top of the crease but the puck bounced away. Michael Grabner had a partial break from the right wing but fired high. Cal Clutterbuck had a chance at a tap-in but at least a good sharp clear by John Moore was what squandered it.
Through it all, the bouncing, rolling puck made it a challenge to get anything done.
The Rangers to their first call when Kyle Okposo manhandled the suddenly diminutive Nash, except no: Nash was whistled for embellishing. On the ensuing 4-on-4, Grabner put one off the outside of the crossbar, and Visnovsky also was stopped from point blank range. (Yes, Tavares was behind each setup.)
Daniel Carcillo would put the Isles on the power play again when he went for the big hit on de Haan in the corner and got his stick up enough to hit him in the face. For someone employed chiefly to hit things, he sure lacks fundamental understanding.
That power play also produced little of threat, though lots of zone time. How would anyone score?
Then, after 48 minutes, the goals came.
First Michael Grabner capped a series of rushes by pulling up and backhanding to the overlapping Cal Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck stopped hard -- and wiped out on the ice -- but managed to scoop a pass across the slot. That pass missed a pinching Matt Donovan but landed on the stick of Brock Nelson, who put it five-hole past Lundqvist.
But even in an outdoor game with goal-squashing ice, the Isles were victims of a quick strike. This time Nabokov went all-in anticipating Derick Brassard's attempt to stuff it from behind the net. That left him sprawled on the ice along the post, so when Brassard's attempt ramped up into Benoit Pouliot's body at the top of the crease, all he had to do was slam it home once it hit the ice.
It was 1-1 after two periods.
The Rangers opened the third with a good shift, an offensive zone draw, and a penalty draw by Nash driving to the net. After forcing Thomas Vanek to hook Nash, the Rangers created a few hairy chances that required Nabokov's frozen toes and Calvin de Haan's anticipation to keep the puck out.
The NBC Sports broadcast noted that the wind had increased to 17 mph, blowing across the rink to the Islanders' right wing side.
The Rangers took the lead after a 3-on-2 -- with Nelson one of the two men back -- morphed into a 4-on-2 that left Carcillo the open man to slam in the rebound. After being hit at the Rangers blueline, Brian Strait was late getting back to help Nelson and Andrew MacDonald.
On the bright side, in his first full game back from IR Nabakov was solid and played pretty smart for the most part. Knowing that passing plays would be dicey, he came out and challenged shots to cut down angles and reduce the risk of productive deflections. The tying goal could have been played better, but it was probably another case of being aggressive to play against the bounce.
Pushing to equalize, the Islanders double-shifted their top line for the final 90 seconds or so. The tying goal was on Kyle Okposo's stick off a great feed from behind the net John Tavares with just seconds left, but Okposo fired achingly wide at a pivotal point in a season where those have been going in for him.
A tough one, a low-scoring game that could go either way, went to the "road" team. Wasn't sure if the rivals would do this with the proliferation of outdoor games, but they did do the special occasion handshake line after the game.
So that concluded the Islanders' first -- and only? -- outdoor game experience. A big event with family and fanfare, and enough action to entertain and mitigate the poor ice, but ultimately it's two critical points lost in the Metropolitan Division standings.
On that note, these teams are back at it Friday night to close the season series and continue the bitter battle for traction in the Metro.
- Stadium Series Cold Weather Safety Tips presented by Coors Light
- Weather Forecast: Islanders-Rangers Yankee Stadium game expected to be freaking cold
- LHH NHL Power Rankings 'n Bits: 'Who Cares We're Playing Outdoors!' Edition
- Jack Capuano on Stadium Series Atmosphere, Islanders Lineup Decisions, Goaltending, Injuries
- Islanders Check out Digs at Yankee Stadium before Outdoor Practice