The New York Islanders lost two-goal leads in the second and third periods on their way to taking their first loss in four meetings with the rival New York Rangers in a pulsating, sloppy-yet-riveting high-scoring affair at Nassau Coliseum. When the dust settled, the Isles had outshot the Smurfs 43-42 but were outscored 6-5.
Both teams came into the game claiming that they prefer not to be lured into track meets, but neither did much to disabuse observers of that notion, with all 11 goals coming at even strength.
Neither Cam Talbot or Jaroslav Halak had banner nights in net, but each faced a heavy workload and, for the most part, required good passing plays and well-placed shots to be beaten. The Isles loss ends their four-game win streak and allows the Rangers to jump into a tie with the Penguins for second place in the Metro, two points behind the Isles.
Words about 15 of the Game's 200 Events
The Islanders appeared to signal that their dominance in this season's series would continue when John Tavares opened scoring just 11 seconds into the game. Talbot misplayed a pass from behind his net, which Tavares intercepted in the corner and immediately placed in the empty net from a sharp angle.
But rather than signal dominance, it signaled chaos and palpitations to come. The Isles could have exited the first period up three or four goals but for Talbot. Instead, their only additional goal was on a Frans Nielsen rebound -- some karma in beating Marc Staal to the loose puck after Staal had essentially punched him in the face on a poorly executed hit.
Not long after Talbot stopped Casey Cizikas on a breakaway that could have made it 3-0, Ryan McDonagh got the Rangers on the board to make it 2-1 instead, with 5:25 left in the first. Though Johnny Boychuk re-opened the two-goal with a blast from the blueline early in the second period, the game was tied again less than two minutes later: Chris Kreider beat Halak with a long shot through Boychuk, then McDonagh scored his second on a point shot that Lubomir Visnovsky deflected past Halak, who otherwise had the shot lined up.
As good and dominant as the Islanders were in the first period, that's how much the Rangers controlled play in the third. The effort allowed them to again erase a two-goal deficit and then finally grabbed their first lead of the game. Though Ryan Strome scored on a cheeky top-shelf shot early in the third to give the Isles a 5-3 lead -- Strome's second goal and his first two-goal game in the NHL -- it was against the run of play and did nothing to stem the Rangers' surge.
Less than five minutes later, the Rangers had tied it again, 5-5. Technically the tying goal came on a play the Isles had reason to protest: Johnny Boychuk was tripped by Chris Kreider at the blueline with the puck in his feet, though the refs probably thought he went down easily or inadvertently, leading to a 2-on-1 rush that Martin St. Louis converted on a feed from Derek Stepan. But any protests aside, the Isles were heavily outplayed in the third period, including after the Rangers took their only lead of the game.
The Rangers beat Halak with odd man rushes and precision shots just inside his posts, particularly picking on the stick side. That's how Kevin Klein's winner at 15:28 came, just inside the far post when he was left alone in the faceoff circle after another sequence with the Isles scrambling. The breakdown began on a turnover by Travis Hamonic, who had a chance to clear the zone but was intercepted, then got caught chasing in a futile attempt to recover.
With their first lead of the game, the Rangers kept pushing, kept riding their top two lines, and kept the Isles from mounting much of a comeback push. Josh Bailey appeared to hit iron in the final minute, but that was as close as the Isles came to forcing overtime.
The Rangers finally got one back against their fiercest rivals in a crowded Metro chase. The season series is already won in the Isles' favor, but the final encounter comes March 10 and the highest regular stakes still remain.
Quote(s) of the Night
"Such a great atmosphere. Both teams played a really good hockey game, so I'm sure it was really fun to watch."
--Derek Stepan channeling the fan perspective but certainly not the coaches'
On the trip of Boychuk:
This next quote is...well you just have to roll the tape:
To the children of 1982-83! (Full clip is available at Deadspin here.)
The Islanders will have to shake this one quickly and hope the rivalry emotion didn't drain them: They are in Raleigh tomorrow to face the Hurricanes, who are also flying in after winning 6-3 in Ottawa tonight.