Well, it's rarely an uninteresting rivalry.
When you heard today's game was at five, you surely thought that meant it started at 5 o'clock, not that it would be over in five minutes. But that's how it looked when the Islanders stormed out of the gate, and the Rangers looked completely disorganized, as the Isles stormed to a 3-0 lead within the first 4:45.
However, it's a rivalry game, so you knew that was far from the end of it. While the third goal forced a Rangers timeout that didn't change much in the flow of the game, when the Rangers broke through they did so with a bang: Two goals within 45 seconds of each other during the 12th minute made it a game again.
Two more minutes and it became downright insane, with the teams exchanging another pair of goals to make it 4-3. The game wouldn't offer another goal until midway through the third period, which only set up the most deliciously cruel ending for the home team: a backbreaking Cal Clutterbuck game-winner with 1:28 remaining.
The Isles walked into the Garden with a storm and exited with a knife to the back of their rivals, winning 6-4, climbing two points closer in the battle for second place, clinching the season series, and picking up the win in regulation, which could become important.
First Period: Chaos
So, here's how the first, ahem, seven goals went.
The Islanders had multiple easy entries into the Rangers zone to start the game, serving notice that something odd was afoot. The Rangers defense was backing off and looked frankly clueless. That finally cost them at 2:50, when Johnny Boychuk one-timed a pass from Josh Bailey in the corner, a play that began when Kyle Okposo was allowed smooth entry -- and a spinorama -- despite being outmanned.
It cost them again at 3:34 when Brock Nelson knocked in the rebound of a John Tavares shot off the rush. Then Matt Martin had a partial breakaway that required a save and withstood an uncalled slash by Dylan McIlrath.
When Kevin Hayes took a slashing penalty at 3:58, the Rangers penalty kill seemed determined to staunch the bleeding, aggressively pursuing each Isles puckholder. But the Isles remained patient and disciplined, and when they finally moved the puck around enough to create an opening, Frans Nielsen's drop pass put the puck on a tee for Nick Leddy, whose blast was deflected by Kyle Okposo on its way past Antti Raanta at 4:45.
Play continued with the Isles pouring on and the Rangers taking forever to get their first shot, which drew a sarcastic Garden cheer equal to the cheer Raanta made on his next save. On their second shot at 11:16, Oscar Lindberg was left alone in front of the net to get the Rangers on the board with a backhand through Jaroslav Halak's arm.
Thirty-eight seconds later, after a bad Boychuk clear, a Dominic Moore shot went wide off the end boards but landed right on the opposite doorstep, where even Tanner Glass couldn't miss to make it 3-2.
No worries though, right? Just 1:20 later, Boychuk hustled to the Rangers blueline to keep the puck in and send it to the net, where it found its way through a screen and a helpless and deep-in-the-crease Raanta.
It's a rivalry game though -- so worries, right? Yes. A shot going wide hit Eric Staal and landed right on his blade to sweep past Halak, who was still lined up for the original shot's trajectory.
Things by no means settled down, but that was it for first-period scoring, though each team also hit posts. Official shots finished 14-10 for the Isles.
Other notable moments included a crunching Matt Martin hit on Staal and a Clutterbuck hit that sent McIlrath to the locker room after his leg got twisted up in the landing. Both returned to the game, though McIlrath ultimately left for good.
Second Period: All Quiet, So to Speak
The Isles had to star the second by killing 1:04 of what remained of a late Boychuk penalty, enough time to make you nervous and require a few saves from Halak.
They had a chance to build their lead again when Mats Zuccarello hooked Thomas Hickey as he tried to shoot from the slot, but the managed zero shots on that power play.
Naturally, the second period saw no goals, and much better play from both goalies. Official shots were 11-7 for the Rangers.
The most shocking moment of the period was when Nielsen stripped Keith Yandle to create a shorthanded breakaway, and Zuccarello not only hooked Nielsen but also essentially tossed his stick in his desperate attempt to cancel the breakaway. Nielsen kept skating and still had enough room to get a shot off in tight -- with Zuccarello's stick sliding in his feet and all around the puck -- but the fact the refs swallowed their whistle on the play drew censored rants from Nielsen, Jack Capuano, Doug Weight and surely others on the Isles bench.
It was simply an amazing deer-in-the-headlights moment for NHL officials, who so often whistle a penalty when a stick merely leaves the ice to tap the body of a puck carrier.
Oh to be there to hear Nielsen's long (but cordial) discussion with Mike Leggo as they both skated off for the second intermission.
The angriest Sex Ed lesson you’ll ever see pic.twitter.com/E8oEJLDNpR— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) March 6, 2016
Third Period: What a GREAT Time for the 4th Line, It Turns Out
That moment of "actually we're not calling things" made it all the more infuriating when Leddy received the first penalty call of the third period 11 minutes in. He was called for interference as he and Viktor Stallberg each battled for positioning on a loose puck that ended up bouncing away from both of them. Leddy convincingly won the battle, felling Stalberg, and the Rangers predictably scored the equalizer on the ensuing power play.
Casey Cizikas was without a stick on the penalty kill, having handed it to Travis Hamonic, and Derick Brassard's one-time blast went in off Halak's glove.
Things went conservatively after that, as suddenly both teams played like there was an assured point out of this if they could just get to the end of regulation.
I imagine all of #IslesTwitter -- and myself, thinking about this recap -- was
preparing in the middle of a good ol' rant when the Isles had their fourth line out for an offensive zone draw against the Derek Stepan line with 90 seconds to go.
But, you know, it worked. It worked because Casey Cizikas can win a faceoff and because Clutterbuck sure as hell can shoot the puck. Clutterbuck absolutely ripped Cizikas' draw win into the return address stamp corner of the net for the game winner, and a dagger delivered in the sweetest way.
Clutterbuck goal pic.twitter.com/xm8cZ15Vts— Stephanie (@myregularface) March 7, 2016
Wonder if AV outsmarted himself; Staal was killing #Isles on draws. He might have been tired, but still lots better than Stepan on faceoffs.— John Kreiser (@jkreiser7713) March 7, 2016
Nielsen completed the victory with an empty netter with a minute remaining.
Current mood: pic.twitter.com/f5hYWi8UmY— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 7, 2016
The MSG broadcast pointed out that Isles defensemen had points on 13 of the team's last 14 goals, which has been an area of emphasis for Capuano and, once answered, could be a hint of improved play and cohesion in that department.
Regardless, despite some poor play in other areas, the Isles officially finish this road trip at 6-1. They'll meet the Penguins in Brooklyn on Tuesday for another surely intense Metro battle.