The New York Islanders did just about everything they could to deserve a win in this season’s final Battle of New York, but opportunistic Rangers deflections and an overly enthusiastic official made it an uphill climb all night.
In the end, they’ll be relieved to have gotten a point after Brock Nelson tied the game at 3-3 with under 18 seconds left in regulation, but they’ll regret the bounce and missed coverage that led to Mika Zibanejad’s blast that ended the game just 28 seconds into overtime.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau instantly won over whatever Islanders fans hadn’t already handed them their hearts after he scored the first Islanders goal and then fought Jacob Trouba after the Rangers defenseman knocked Michael Dal Colle out of the game with a head shot. Though he headed to the locker room after taking 17 minutes in penalties, he returned to a hero’s welcome as he skated back on the rink for overtime.
Of greater concern than the lost point is its accessory costs for the Islanders: In addition to losing Dal Colle in the third period, they lost Andy Greene to injury in the first. Just as Pageau filled one lineup hole, another one may have re-opened.
Pageau said before the game that he was excited to join this team for the approach they take and the identity they aspire to maintain, and he got a perfect taste of it tonight. The Islanders largely outplayed the Rangers in each period, but for a mistake and a couple of breaks, yet they faced tough break after tough break.
But at no point did they relent or just resign to it being “one of those nights.”
First Period: Greene Gone
The Islanders were on their front feet from the outset, generating scoring chances throughout the first period and testing Alexandar Georgiev, who made 15 of his 42 saves in the opening 20 minutes. But a failed power play late in the period almost killed that roll, and then the Rangers’ top line worked the puck beautifully to open scoring a minute later, at 17:02.
Making matters worse, Andy Greene left the game after just five shifts. He dove along the ice to clear a puck out of the zone, but his slide carried his left arm into the boards while a Ranger landed on top of him. On the bench, it looked like a shoulder injury.
Isles were up around 90% expected goals (5v5) with top-6 forwards on the ice that period.— Travis Flynn (@NDRedEagle) February 26, 2020
But mixed-up coverage with Panarin on the ice.
Second Period: Let’s Geau!
There were no penalties in the highwire second period, which was more evenly played and reflected it on the score sheet. Greg McKegg scored on a deflection at 7:48 to raise concern that the hockey gods would not be on the Isles’ side on this night.
The Islanders were firing shots and creating good looks all period — and occasionally conceding a scary counterattack — but it was looking like they’d reach the second intermission trailing 2-0 in a game that could easily have the reverse score.
Instead, Pageau’s first big moment as an Islander arrived. It came on a fortunate bounce for the Isles, one of the few they got on this night, but Pageau was alert and tracking the puck to slip the rebound of Ryan Pulock’s blast into the open net past Georgiev.
That made it 2-1 and gave Islanders fans renewed hope at 17:04. I say “fans,” because it was clear the Islanders players never lost even a bit of hope throughout this game.
Third Period: What a comeback
Speaking of fan hopes, the Islanders were again on the attack throughout the third and it looked like just a matter of time they’d get the equalizer. They would have to do it without Pageau, however, as he stepped up to avenge Dal Colle after this hit by Trouba:
Here’s the hit on Dal Colle that resulted in Pageau dropping the gloves with Trouba. pic.twitter.com/vyB7wkjEz5— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) February 26, 2020
It’s a hit that was once allowed but is a real no-no now, thanks to the discovery of concern for cranial health. And like so many of these hits — and to refute the “keep your head up” crowd — Dal Colle was put in a bad position when the puck went into his skates, causing him to slow and look behind him. That’s when Trouba stepped up and didn’t adjust his path.
Pageau, who gives up plenty of inches and pounds to Trouba, didn’t do any damage with his fight but did earn the respect of his teammates and the Coliseum crowd.
That may have been a pick-me-up, but first the challenges would only get tougher. A sustained Rangers possession in the Islanders zone gave the visitors a cushion again, as Brett Howden scored a great deflection goal while redirecting a Brendan Smith point shot.
So down 3-1, the Islanders continued to press. And they appeared to get one goal back after good pressure when a point shot eluded Georgiev with Lee battling defensemen in front.
But Kevin Pollock waived it off immediately, asserting thatAnders Lee was in the crease interfering with the goaltender and “impeding his ability” to play the shot. The Islanders had the chance to challenge though, and many thought after viewing how Lee initiated no contact, and was being pushed, and the goalie backed away without even trying to make a play, that the challenge might succeed.
Pollock thought otherwise. Okay.
After the game, Trotz was asked about the call:
“I thought we were winning that challenge for sure. I thought Georgiev didn’t engage with Lee at all, and he was at the top of the crease. You look at their second goal where [McKegg, the scorer] clipped Varlamov’s leg, that was not called back. ... That was a helluva comeback by us though.”
With the challenge denied, the Islanders also faced a bench minor while trailing 3-1 with under eight minutes to go.
But old friend Ryan Strome spoiled that power play pretty quickly with a tripping minor. The Islanders had Jordan Eberle serve the penalty, which was astute, because...
...Eberle tied it up with that nifty, patient backhand move just seven seconds after coming out of the box.
The Islanders kept the pedal down. They ended up outshooting the Smurfs 14-7 in the third, and it seemed it was just a matter of time. They had a timeout and sixth attacker with 80 seconds left, and did beautifully to work the puck around the zone, win the 50/50 battles, and sustain the pressure.
Finally, they broke through when Devon Toews was set up with a straightaway look from the top of the slot. He faked the shot and found Brock Nelson on the back door for the redirect. Georgiev was there, but overreacted, so Nelson’s redirection slid in through the five hole.
It was quite the effort, quite the poised display by the Islanders skaters. Even if they hadn’t found the equalizer, I’d have left this game at least feeling impressed by their 6-on-5 drill.
Alas, overtime ended quickly, with a nice backcheck spoiled by an oversight. After a bad bounce, Anthony Beauvillier and Nick Leddy hustled hard to break up a Rangers scoring threat. But Nelson collapsed too close to them, leaving the middle of the ice wide open when the puck bounced free to the high slot.
Varlamov came out high to play the angle, but Zibanejad’s shot was perfectly placed, mid-height and just inside the stick-side post.
- Well Pageau is a keeper.
- Dal Colle had a good game before his injury, moving around and forechecking quite well. He’ll be missed, but the Islanders have more players like that, and Cal Clutterbuck nearing a return.
- Greene, on the other hand, will be tough to replace if he has to miss extended time. By the looks of it, it could range from a brief injury spell to a dislocation. We of course don’t know and won’t be told.
- The Islanders remain in playoff position as the first wild card, one point ahead of the Blue Jackets, who lost tonight to future Islander Zach Parise’s Minnesota Wild.
"JG is as advertised. He's impactful, you see how he changes our team in so many ways. You saw how he stepped up. What a great pickup by Lou. I'm glad he's on our side." - Barry Trotz pic.twitter.com/p6Qs2N6jKl— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 26, 2020
The Islanders take to the road for a one-off in St. Louis, where the Blues were playing the Blackhawks tonight. Then they face last spring’s other Stanley Cup finalist, the Bruins, back home on Saturday.