Okposo shoots Islanders past Rangers on Rivalry Night

Viktor Stalberg, Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Hickey

Viktor Stalberg beats Jaroslav Halak at 18:37 of the second tying the score. The Islanders prevailed 2-1 over the Rangers in a shootout. AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

Rivalry Night lived up to the billing. For 65 minutes, the Rangers and Islanders battled for every inch of ice at a sold out Barclays Center. Even with the scene changing dramatically from Long Island to Brooklyn off Atlantic Avenue, the Battle Of New York remained as intense as ever.

The first ever meeting between classic rivals needed a skill competition to decide a winner. Kyle Okposo beat Henrik Lundqvist in Round 1 of the shootout helping lead the Islanders to a 2-1 victory over the Rangers. The Isles are 4-0-1 over their last five and closed within five of first place.

Both goalies stood out with the teams combining for 71 shots. Only two got past them. Jaroslav Halak made 33 saves while Lundqvist finished with 36. However, Halak improved to 7-0-0 versus Lundqvist since 2010 by stopping all three Rangers shooters. He turned aside Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Dan Boyle, who went in as slowly as Michael Nylander before missing on the backhand.

Jaroskav Halak, Tanner Glass

Tanner Glass dives in front of Jaroslav Halak for a loose puck. AP Photo By Kathy Willens/Getty Images

From a Rangers perspective, this was a marked improvement from the sloppy hockey they’ve played recently. With Tanner Glass in the lineup on the third line with Oscar Lindberg and J.T. Miller, they played a stronger forecheck game. In fact, the play of Glass, Lindberg and Miller was impressive. They were the team’s best line followed by the fourth line of lone goalscorer Viktor Stalberg, Jarret Stoll and Dominic Moore. Per War-on-Ice, the third line was a combined plus-22 in shot differential.

Glass had good chemistry with Lindberg and Miller, who played one of his best games of the season. They were so effective that coach Alain Vigneault should consider keeping Glass in for tomorrow versus the Avalanche. That would mean Emerson Etem sitting out again due to illness. Not something I want to do often. I’d prefer him play over Stalberg. But he had a good game going to the dirty area to score the tying goal late in the second.

Both teams came out hitting. The Islanders started their grinding fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. They were their usual feisty self with the trio combining for 21 of the team’s 52 hits. How competitive was it? The Blueshirts also had 52 hits meaning the bitter rivals combined for a hefty 104. Miller recorded a team best eight while Glass chipped in with five as did Derick Brassard.

It was the kind of hockey you’ve come to expect when the Rangers and Islanders do battle. Maybe that’s why the Rangers cycle game was revitalized. They came with better energy chipping pucks in and working the Isles’ D. They out-shot the Isles 13-6 in a well played first period. Despite a territorial edge and shots edge, they were unable to get one past Halak. That included a missed power play chance despite good puck movement.

Kevin Hayes drew a hooking minor on Josh Bailey during the second giving the Blueshirts another opportunity. But they were unable to capitalize. The game turned following a Keith Yandle hooking minor. Yandle, who was easily his team’s best defenseman flying all night- was in the box when Dan Girardi sent a puck out of play. That handed the Isles a 53-second two-man advantage.

Islanders captain John Tavares made it count by walking out and beating Lundqvist for his club-leading 12th from Okposo and Johnny Boychuk at 12:22. The Rangers three-man alignment was hideous. With Marc Staal impeded by Brock Nelson, Jesper Fast backed in giving Tavares too much time and space for an easy finish upstairs. The lack of execution drew the ire of Lundqvist. He made some big stops on the second half of the power play to keep his team within one.

With the period winding down, Vigneault made a switch double shifting Hayes. Playing in place of Jarret Stoll who made a critical diving block, Hayes let a Dominic Moore back pass go through to an open Staal at the left point. He let go of low wrist shot which took a funny hop towards Stalberg in front. He was able to send a low backhand past Halak for his third to tie the score with 1:23 left. A gritty play from a hard working player.

Due largely to a icing and consecutive power plays, the Isles held a 16-9 shots edge in the second. The terms were more even in a closely fought third. Tight checking and no penalties allowed the teams to go back and forth five-on-five. For the Blueshirts, there were some close calls with Staal falling down causing a Isles chance which Lundqvist bailed him out on. Staal struggled in his end most of the night. He was minus-eight in shots differential. Oddly enough, the top line also struggled with Rick Nash a game worst minus-12. But those three don’t play much D. They did get chances in transition.

For two periods, Chris Kreider had another forgettable night. He wasn’t doing enough during his shifts. In the third, that changed. He was the Rangers’ most dangerous forward. Using his game breaking speed and instincts, he had some excellent chances but recorded only two shots. In order for them to survive without Derek Stepan, they need more consistency from Kreider. It’s been a lackluster year so far.

With neither netminder budging on 18 more combined shots with the Isles outshooting the Rangers 12-6, it went to 3-on-3. The sellout crowd of 15,795 got what it wanted. The Isles’ second sellout and first since the home opener against the Blackhawks resulted in the very exciting prospect of 3-on-3.

Unfortunately, a Isles’ bad change handed the Rangers a 4-on-3. With a chance to win it, they twice set up Boyle for one-timers. But they missed the target. Brassard also took a shot with Kreider screening in front but Halak got a piece of it.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano had Tavares serve the minor penalty. When he came out, they got the puck to him. He got off a contested tough low shot on Lundqvist who covered up. Tavares was dangerous most of the night finishing with a goal on four shots. Defenseman Calvin de Haan had a strong game getting three shots on Lundqvist while showing offensive instincts.

The final minute of 3-on-3 disappointed. The Blueshirts’ strategy was confusing. For some inexplicable reason, Jesper Fast was out and basically killed time before hustling to the bench for Nash while Boyle held onto the puck. It made no sense. Since preseason, they have yet to score a goal at 3-on-3.

Even though it went to a shootout, it was a exciting game. The difference was Okposo, who made a fancy deke before going high glove on Lundqvist. Most puzzling was Mats Zuccarello’s poor attempt right into Halak. That about explains it from the Ranger side. After Lundqvist denied Tavares in the top of the third, Boyle deliberately skated in so slowly Halak looked confused. He had him beat with a nice deke but was unable to steer a backhand into an open side giving the Isles the win.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-J.T. Miller, NYR (5 SOG, 8 hits, very involved on forecheck)

2nd Star-John Tavares, NYI (PPG-12th of season, showed why he’s Isles best)

1st Star-Keith Yandle, NYR (5 shots, 8 attempts, 4 blocks, looked like a classic #2 at times on the rush)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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