In a battle of two teams desperate for points to stay above the muddy middle of the Metro Division, the Islanders and Rangers traded chances, penalties and saves for two periods and with only a late second period goal separating them.
Either team could have grabbed the points by the throat in the third. Turns out, it was the Islanders, thanks to a new goal leader and an old and growing Rangers nemesis.
The contest began the way a rivalry game like this should, with the combatants trading chances, hits, big saves and bad blood -- all on the backdrop of a back-and-forth exchange of chants from opposing factions in the crowd.
John Tavares had two good chances to snap his slump, but Henrik Lundqvist was square and in the zone all night. Jaroslav Halak stood strong through early Ranger chances, particularly on an early power play after Cal Clutterbuck went to the box and Matt Martin and Dylan McIlrath joined him after announcing their presence to one another.
However, there were no goals, and only one more (late) penalty, in the first.
The second period was even more eventful, with more hectic counterattacks -- but still just one power play plus one more coincidental set between Martin and McIlrath -- and it looked like it too would be scoreless. But one solid, late rush by the Rangers yielded the breakthrough as Marc Staal got his stick on the puck amid a rush to the net to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 45 seconds remaining.
Oh that third
No one on Earth thought the game would finish 1-0, but there were still a few ways for it to go. One way was for the Islanders to equalize, which they did, on a period opening 4-on-4. Brock Nelson forced Kevin Hayes into a turnover, then retrieved the puck and shot it upstairs on Lundqvist's short side for his 18th of the year (and fourth goal of the week).
With the game reset, McIlrath was whistled for roughing on Nelson. The Islanders kept the power play moving and Tavares hit a sneaking Nick Leddy, who shot before Lundqvist could set himself. After 40 minutes of basically nothing, the Islanders suddenly had two goals in a little over two minutes and a lead to protect.
They did so with almost 15 minutes of uninterrupted keep away. They had a few chances, but mainly chose to kick the puck out of their zone with juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust enough zip to avoid icing. It was tense (and, frankly, a little dangerous), but the period flew by without whistles and, blessedly, without commercials. The Rangers' best chances came on a power play just after Leddy scored, but mostly the shots throughout the period weren't threatening and Halak was there.
The Rangers pulled Lundqvist with about a minute to go and got some time in the Islanders' zone, but Kyle Okposo picked up a loose puck and shot it from almost center ice for the empty netter.
Leddy was named the first star (and he was excellent at cutting through Rangers defense, particularly in the third), but Halak was the real player of the game. He made 34 saves, saved the Islanders' bacon in the first, and is now 8-0 in his encounters against Lundqvist.
Fun and Merriment
Yeah, okay Tanner Glass. Keep flapping those wings. Maybe they'll fly you back to Hartford.
The Boychuk Boys strike again.
Adam Pelech played another fine game, earning his first NHL point on Nelson's goal (how, we don't know). In the first, he took a skate in the face and left, but returned for the second with a scar that makes him look like one of the old 12" G.I. Joe figures (without the lifelike beard).
Hey, kid! Those seats are brand new. Take it easy. Go beat up your own building.