In a battle with their metro rivals, the New York Islanders were less than six minutes away from pulling off a regulation victory without the benefit of a powerplay, but the defenses ultimately broke to cede one point, and the Rangers' third powerplay of the night created the opening for the bitter opponents to steal a second point too.
The penalty that did the damage was a correct call -- Michael Grabner desperately lifting a hook on Michael Del Zotto to spoil an OT scoring chance -- but it was a cruel decision given the infractions that went unnoticed in a tightly played affair. Kyle Okposo would receive the token 10-minute misconduct at game's end, no doubt for voicing what the entire Isles bench thought of the "home ice" officiating.
Before it all turned south, Nabokov was shaken up after making a hard save with around six minutes to go, and you could start to dare to think about a heroic shutout earned through traffic and pain.
It wasn't to be. After an icing, the Islanders took a timeout to rest. After the draw, Carl Hagelin circled back and evaded pressure at the blueline from Colin McDonald to work the puck to Derek Stepan, who took a shot from the point that Rick Nash deflected downward just enough to end Nabokov's shutout bid.
Tied 1-1 with 5:23, the warring factions in the crowd escalated to a cacophony that underlined why this is the best and only true derby in the NHL. By the run of play, overtime merely seemed inevitable.
Alas, there wasn't much to overtime. Grabner's penalty came just 21 seconds in, and the 4-on-3 game winner by Rick Nash -- through a Ryan Callahan screen and Nabokov's five hole -- came just 21 seconds after that.
- Overall, the Islanders handled this game pretty well. They didn't sit back foolishly on a 1-0 lead, playing carefully but not too conservatively as they took their opportunities to try to get an insurance goal. They didn't do stupid emotional rivalry things that can get you into trouble (none of the penalties were of the "I'm too fired up" variety).
- Some maddening reversals and unimaginative clears in their own zone made things harder than they should have been -- essentially sustaining Rangers zone time as some sort of favor -- but that is sadly nothing new. On the bright side, solid defensive plays by Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Radek Martinek broke up rushes and prevented chances from getting dangerous. Thomas Hickey was again resourceful in finding ways to relieve pressure.
- Michael Grabner was EVERYwhere. Just everywhere. Fantastic game from him, even aside from the goal, which he finished top corner in beautiful fashion after a really insightful feed from Colin McDonald. Grabner led the team with four shots, was huge in 2:22 of PK time, as usual, which made it all the more painful that he was the one in the box for the Rangers' OT powerplay.
- Still, even with 2:22 of PK -- an impressive total when you consider the Rangers had 4:21 total PP time -- Grabner finished with under 10 minutes of total ice time. Even if the Isles are trying to "balance" out their lines and spread the talent, we'll continue to think there should be a way to find him more.
- I mean, to beat a dead horse here ... they even found 8:30 for Eric Boulton. (On the other side, Micheal Haley had 5:31 and Stu Bickel had 6:10. No real fireworks ensued.)
- And (continues to beat it), after the tying goal -- against McDonald, still out there with John Tavares and Matt Moulson -- the Isles put Boulton right out there with Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas. Doesn't compute.
- They did shorten the D bench though, sitting Joe Finley late after he had multiple moments that reminded you they have several more sure-handed options to protect the puck in a close game.
- Nabokov was on his game, stopping 35 shots and picking out plenty of shots through traffic. His glove was on. One goal was a good deflection, the other a hard shot through a good screen. Callahan's jumping screen on the winner was enough to explain the smallest of delays it took to go down and close the five hole.
- Frustrations aside, an entertaining and nail-biting night befitting what at its best moments can still be the best rivalry in the league.
Lest it look like we're whining about officiating though, it's not that: It was a tight game that could've gone either way. Individual breaks happen, good and bad. Nabokov post-game:
Toughest loss all year. Good game from both teams and I won't complain about the officiating. We had a game on our hands.
All told, a disappointing result for a team that's still learning how to build and finish these. They've won two in a row five times to get to their 10 wins, and each time they've been unable to extend it to a modest win streak.
With Marc Staal and Brad Richards out of the lineup (though the Isles were without Lubomir Visnovsky), you'd hope they'd find a way for more pressure on Lundqvist and convert an insurance goal here or there (Josh Bailey alone in the shot, fed by Kyle Okposo, forced a good blocker stop from Henrik Lundqvist. Matt Martin on a shorthanded breakaway under pressure was stopped. The top line had a couple shots each.)
But close game, intense rivalry game ... close, not quite close enough.
Game Thread Comment of the Night
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- (Spoiler Alert, multiple authors)