The Rangers came into tonight's game against the Islanders with 6 more points than any other team in the Eastern Conference. For the first time in a long time, this New York rivalry meant the Islanders were facing one of the NHL's elite teams. For the first time in 4 games against their hated foe, the Isles were up to the task.
The Islanders had two different 2 goal leads, but eventually squandered them and were forced to duel it out with the Rangers in OT. Goals by Frans Nielsen (via the forehand) and Matt Moulson lifted the Islanders to a 4-3 victory over the Rangers, pulling them once again within 6 points of the 8th spot in the East and 1 game of NHL .500.
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The Islanders jumped out early, compiling a 2-0 lead on some more magic from the first line. Matt Moulson found himself the lone blue jersey amongst 5 Rangers sweaters, but he bared down and drove home the game's first goal from right outside the goal crease. Then P.A. Parenteau fired a slapshot past Martin Biron off what was an unbelievable between the legs/behind the back pass by John Tavares (ok maybe at this point those kind of things ARE believable). A goal by Marc Staal cut the lead to 2-1 heading into the intermission.
The second period was like a round in a boxing match, the first half decidedly belonging to the Islanders, who had two power plays and cashed in on the second of the two. Parenteau found the net again after a beautiful sequence of puck movement and puck control by the Isles.
But the second half of the period belonged to the Rangers. They cut the lead to 3-2 after a forced entry pass by Parenteau was picked off and some Mario Lemieux-esque goal hanging by Marian Gaborik, leading to a breakaway. After a weak penalty call on Casey Cizikas, the Rangers scored on the power play and tied it at 3.
The third period had a lot of up and down play but it looked like two teams who were waiting for their chance to make a move. There were very few scoring opportunities and even fewer hits.
-Yes Casey Cizikas made his NHL debut. He wore the very emergency call-up like #53 and his play was solid, but not stellar. I wasn't expecting stellar, but he definitely looked like he belonged. Surprisingly, Jack Capuano gave him a good amount of time with the second power play unit.
-I really wonder if the Islanders staff practices breakaways with Michael Grabner on off days. And if they don't, they should. Again he found himself with a few breakaway chances. On the first he made a nice backhand move and tried to go five hole on Biron. He missed slipping it through Marty's legs by half a stick blade. His second wasn't so nice, badly putting the puck behind a breaking Kyle Okposo and the Isles didn't even come away with a shot on goal.
-The Islanders are now 14-0-6 when leading after the first period.
-Fighthouse Hockey members didn't have to wait long for the game's first fight. Matt Martin and Stu Bickel dropped the gloves less than 2 and a half minutes into the game. Sadly though, that was the games only fisticuffs.
-I thought the officiating was less than impressive tonight. A few of the calls that gave both teams man advantages were the kind of things that should definitely be let go in an NHL game.
-Interesting trivia on MSG: The last player to play 75+ games without having a penalty called against him? Butch Goring in 1980-81. More than 75 games and not one single penalty minute?!?! That boggles the mind.
-Evgeni Nabokov wasn't outstanding, but he was just what the Islanders needed in net. Right after the Rangers cut the lead to 2-1, John Mitchell made a sweet deflection and put it right on Nabokov, only to be stymied by an equally sweet save. I thought that was a big play in the momentum of this game.
-Josh Bailey had another good performance...I kid, I just missed my new man crush.
-The bartender at the ESPN Club told me he was a Capital fan. Between the first and second periods, he went on about how Dale Hunter was just what the Capitals needed and how he was right about Tomas Vokoun killing their team lately. At that point I made the decision that whatever I was planning on tipping him, he was now getting 50% of that.