The New York Rangers edged the New York Islanders in their final regular season meeting in 43 years of battles at Nassau Coliseum. A tightly checked game turned on an unlucky carom off of Ryan Strome's skate 2:50 into the third period, which gave Rick Nash his 39th goal of the season and this historic night's winning tally.
The teams had played each other at the Coliseum 125 previous times in the regular season, and though this wasn't a fitting result, the intensity and closeness befit the long-running rivalry perfectly.
After the teams clawed to trade chances through the first 40 minutes -- Cam Talbot and Jaroslav Halak taking turns shutting the door -- the third period slowed to a crawl and careful territorial battle. Even with three total power plays in the third (one for the Rangers, two for the Isles) and a frenzied push in the final minutes, shots in the period were just 7-4 for the Isles.
The Isles had already won the season series, but now each team has won two in the other's building. Tonight's regulation loss means the Isles' lead on their city rivals drops to just one point, with the Smurfs having four games in hand.
Anders Lee's goal from battling around the Rangers net was the only goal in the first half of the game. At the midway point of the second period, Kevin Hayes equalized with a relentless breakaway effort while being hounded by Thomas Hickey. That play began when Lubomir Visnovsky carried in but was closed down inside the Rangers blueline, and Mats Zuccarello pounced and quickly sent a stretch pass to send Hayes in behind the Isles defense.
The Islanders had their power play opportunities to pull ahead or equalize once they fell behind, the officials administering a bizarrely aggressive but inconsistent standard of "One hand on stick? Might be a penalty." all night. But too often they failed to generate extended possession or shots with the extra man.
They also chose oddly on some golden chances, most notably when Tyler Kennedy shot wide rather than drop to Thomas Hickey or cross to John Tavares on a three-on-one.
No doubt they were missing Nick Leddy, who was an injury scratch after last night's OT win in Toronto, but the issues were familiar ones from other times this season when the power play has struggled. The VIsnovsky - Hickey pairing had trouble with the puck all night, sometimes with odd Coliseum bounces and sometimes with fumbles where their normally sure hands betrayed them.
On the bright side, the Isles welcomed back Kyle Okposo after a nearly two-month absence. As promised he started out on Frans Nielsen's line for the first two periods, with the "Kid Line" reunited and Kennedy remaining on the top trio with John Tavares and Josh Bailey. But for the third, Okposo was back in his more familiar spot with Tavares and Bailey. He finished with three shots on goal.