The first ever Islanders-Rangers game in Brooklyn lived up to its billing as one of the very rare NBC Sports Wednesday Night Rivalry games that actually qualifies for that title.
It was a back-and-forth affair, with the Rangers coming to play early and the Islanders gradually tilting the ice their way. Both goalies were where they needed to be time and again, with Jaroslav Halak keeping the game scoreless in the first when his team was MIA. The scoring included one goal that was a highlight, one that was an unlucky break and one shootout try that will go down as one of the lamest attempts in history.
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The Rangers had the better of play during the first period, though the Isles fell into the trap of shooting into the Rangers' shot blocks even while on odd-man rushes. Halak made 13 saves in the period, while Rangers defensemen made five or so of their own.
The Isles were much better in the second period, and soon after they killed the Rangers' second power play they struck first. The Isles' first power play became a 5-on-3 when Dan Girardi lofted the puck over the glass, and John Tavares converted from the low slot after Johnny Boychuk and Kyle Okposo played catch at the points.
That sent an already raucous (and split) crowd to new levels, but that was just the beginning.
However, the Islanders didn't make it to the intermission with that 1-0 lead, as a fluke turn off Tavares' stick set up the Rangers equalizer. Tavares half-blocked a waist-high shot from the point with his stick blade, but that directed the puck downward and right to Viktor Stalberg, who swatted it in as Halak tried to re-adjust.
Headed toward the third period with everything to play for, the familiar exchange of "Let's Go Islanders" -- "Let's Go [redacted]" from these rivalry games showed that it has made the jump to Brooklyn. The period was more even than the second, with some near misses on both ends; Josh Bailey with a power move in tight, Tavares with a power shift in which he had three shots and was so gassed he had to chat with the linesman at the next faceoff to catch his breath. For the Rangers, Rick Nash had a couple of shots late and Halak had to make a kick save in the dying seconds to preserve the tie.
In overtime, the Islanders flirted with disaster by taking a too many men on the ice penalty during a botched Nick Leddy-Ryan Strome exchange (insert your own "back to Bridgeport" joke here). As is his custom, Jack Capuano elected to have Tavares serve the penalty. The NBCSN crew discussed the practice, and when the Islanders (tenuously) killed the penalty, a sprung Tavares was able to get a shot on Henrik Lundqvist. That led to an enjoyable Freudian Slip by Ed Olczyk, who said "If that puck goes in, that's why you put Jack Capuano in the penalty box."
With traumatic memories of their last shootout still fresh, Islanders fans would be excused for not feeling confident in a victory. Thankfully, Kyle Okposo's first shot past Lundqvist would be all the scoring needed. But it wasn't that easy.
WTF Was That?
Halak stopped Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello in the first two rounds, and faced a surprise shooter in Dan Boyle for the deciding third round. Boyle had played an active game, so maybe Rangers coach Alain Vigneault thought the 72-year-old defenseman was feeling it. Or that he wanted a chance to zing the non-Original Six team that tried to sign him.
In any case, Boyle took the opportunity and ran with it like David Hasselhoff running down Baywatch beach. He skated in on Halak at the speed of paint drying - so slow in fact that Halak looked as if he was asking the refs if it was legal - and actually had the goalie down on his back by the time he reached the crease eight hours later. But Boyle's weak shovel attempt hit the side of the net and skittered harmlessly towards the Barclays Center boards, ending the game.
Several Islanders stood out all evening. Calvin deHaan in particular was very solid, and Leddy was his usual puck-carrying self. Although he didn't figure in the scoring (unless you count the too much man penalty), Ryan Strome was all over the place and had more than a handful of chances to score.
Islanders win 2-1 and can walk a little taller tomorrow. Vigneault now knows they're still called the Islanders. And Halak even got to throw a little shade at Boyle:
Halak's reaction to Boyle's move in the shootout is great. Hard eye roll. Great game! https://t.co/0W6WmuLtNW— The Goalie Guild (@TheGoalieGuild) December 3, 2015
See you all in Brooklyn on Friday for the Blues.
Awesome atmosphere tonight #YESYESYES— Calvin de Haan (@cal_dehaan) December 3, 2015
Boyle came in like he was on a Segway.— Rookie Example (@KeithLHHockey) December 3, 2015
That's actually Boyle's top speed.— Mike Levak LHH (@ICanC4Isles) December 3, 2015
@KeithLHHockey rope-a-dope the coaching staff. brilliant— Michael Willhoft (@MichaelWillhoft) December 3, 2015
In the NBCSN post-game show, Ol' Mike Milbury said the Islanders center ice "Yes, Yes, Yes" celebration needed "some disco music" and that he wasn't a fan. The feeling is mutual, Mike. Also, they've been doing this for two years, so way to be on top of things.
YES! YES! YES! YES! pic.twitter.com/pTGJAWzTLT— hockeyfights (@hockeyfights) December 3, 2015