In a rematch of last week with many, many swings befitting what this rivalry used to be, the New York Islanders erased a first-period two-goal deficit by dominating the second period, then clung for dear life during the third before prevailing 4*-3 in a shootout over the New York Rangers.
Last week, the Rangers' win started a winning streak that carried them out of the bottom half of the conference, while continuing a losing streak for the Islanders that stopped at five one week later.
The formal ending came when Frans Nielsen (forehand of foolery) and John Tavares each converted their shootout attempts, beating their old teammate Martin Biron. Evgeni Nabokov stopped Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash.
Despite its satisfying result, the shootout was an anticlimactic end to a pulsating game that saw 70 shots, five powerplays, 65 minutes, one fight, and an end-to-end overtime.
If you skipped this one due to your sweetheart or through general disgust, well you missed a fun one. But it didn't start out that way.
Things looked pretty horrible early on. John Tavares made a half-hearted backhand dump-in, his wingers didn't pursue with any urgency, and the Rangers pulled one of their long pass to create pressure in the Isles zone. With the Isles top line and top defensive pair on the ice, all were too passive as Carl Hagelin won the puck behind the net and fed Dan Girardi for a hard shot that deflected off Andrew MacDonald and over Evgeni Nabokov's shoulder. 1-0 Rangers.
Then MacDonald continued an uncharacteristic evening of gaffes by muffing an attempted pass at his own blueline, leading to Brad Richards getting two uncontested shots, while Marian Gaborik happily joined in to smack in the second rebound as Visnovsky watched. 2-0 Rangers.
Matt Martin got himself a breakaway, but Martin Biron made the glove save. Late in the first, after some decent Isles pressure, the Rangers iced it and John Tortorella used his timeout to make sure his weary figures didn't give up a late goal and give the Islanders hope heading into the intermission.
A Jolt of a Comeback
They didn't, but the Islanders would generate their own hope with three consecutive goals in the first 7:25 of the second period:
Colin McDonald finished smartly upstairs in tight on a good feed from the corner by Casey Cizikas after a successful forecheck by Cizikas and Matt Martin. 2-1 Rangers.
Then after a penalty kill (Frans Nielsen penalized for the new "don't sweep the puck with your hand on the faceoff" rule after his stick broke), Nielsen came out of the box to tie up his man and allow John Tavares to lead a 2-on-1 with Cizikas. Tavares shot, beating Martin Biron through the arm on the far side. Tied 2-2.
Forty seconds later, Lubomir Visnovsky did another one of his zone entries and smart, firm passes which we've seen several times in his short stint as an Islander. This time he fed Brad Boyes breaking down the right side, and the approach of a possible Islanders passing target at the crease kept Biron on his toes, so Boyes was able to beat him low. 3-2 Isles.
But of Course...
Then it was time for the familiar luck to return. The Rangers finally scored on a powerplay, though it wasn't really a powerplay kind of goal. A mishandled advance pass went bouncing toward Nabokov with Hagelin rushing in. Nabby bobbled it, Hagelin kicked it, his momentum and the encroachment of Hamonic gave Nabby enough of a 1-2 push to give Hagelin space to get his blade on it one more time to dribble it over the line.
The play went to video review, but it was a good goal. Jack Capuano made a "nice try" argument about the refs intending to blow before the puck went over the line, but winning that appeal would require levels of extrapolative psychology that goes beyond even the NHL's rule book. Tied 3-3 heading into the second intermission.
(Hilariously, Sam "It's a POWER PLAY GOAL" Rosen still took the time to shout this most obvious and expected of hockey occurrences -- the powerplay is the situation when a goal is LEAST surprising -- several minutes after the event, once the video review was complete.)
The Isles more than tested their own luck though, as the majority of the third period was titled with the Isles lucky to survive without a goal against thanks to Nabokov, shot blocks, and a whole lot of would-be chances that didn't go the Rangers' way. They were outshot 12-7 in the period but it looked even worse.
Overtime: Le Pant, Le Pant, Le Pant
Overtime was heart-stopping and ridiculous. The two rivals traded 90-second segments where they piled on the pressure and could have easily ended it with a goal. Ryan McDonagh flat-out robbed the Isles of what would have been an easy tap-in from Visnovsky to Tavares. Then the Rangers sent the Isles defense into an all-too-familiar scramble.
In the final minute, after Brian Strait misread a Visnovsky reverse behind the Isles goal that almost ended in a Rangers goal, MIchael Grabner singlehandedly won the puck, took it out of the zone, and earned a breakaway in which Marc Staal sticked him in the Austrian's Hapsburg jewels not once, but twice, right as he was shooting. Shot high. No call. Overtime over. Shootout time.
Shootout: At Least It's Not a Dunk Contest
I could be wrong, but I think Nielsen has now beaten Biron in shootouts twice by using his backup move, that swift low five-hole that is at its most hilariously effective on goalies who are sitting unprepared because they are so focused on spotting and stopping the Backhand of Judgment. [Update: Frans confirms.] This one looked particularly bad for Biron, and I'm sure unaware Rangers fans will be wondering what on earth he was doing.
Tavares' move was good too, with lots of back-and-forth before going high stick side on Biron.
Nabby was strong on both shootout attempts, not even flinching as Gaborik sprinted toward him and then stopped in the slot, using the ridiculous laboratory-only, zero-defense conditions that the shootout allows gluttonous NHL shooters.
- McDonagh makes me curse Bob Gainey every time.
- Kyle Okposo had zero shots on goal, Lubomir Visnovsky had six.
- Just about everyone on the blueline was guilty of some gaffes tonight. No one innocent.
- Nice noise from the Isles fans who invaded the Garden tonight. Presence was felt.
- In the unsung department, Matt Martin had a nice game all around, including on PK and in blocking shots after breakdowns.
- To be fair, shots were 31-30 at even strength (27-26 at 5-on-5), with the Rangers' four powerplays (including a 33-second 5-on-3 with no shots) making the overall shot margin 39-31.
No more notes from me, not tonight. No forced insights. I didn't like the lineup choices going in -- Eric Boulton played 1:36, got in a fight and took a tripping minor, while Josh Bailey saw 15:57 yet Michael Grabner saw only 9:32 [Edit: Sorry, meant to make it clear those times are even strength. Total TOI was 19:49 for Bailey and 12:56 for Grabner, which, well, same point.]. But
obviously Boulton's fight was the key to the game I know that in both wins and losses, hockey is still a maddeningly coin-flip kind of game.
Tonight, it was a hell of an entertaining one too.