Rangers lose to Islanders in mind boggling fashion

Brock Nelson

Brock Nelson celebrates his tying goal at the bench as the Islanders rallied from a goal back to beat the Rangers 3-1 at Barclays Center. A damaging loss that the Blueshirts earned with undisciplined play befitting of a flawed team in trouble. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II/Getty Images

This one broke me. I can’t say for sure how other fans of the Rangers feel. After watching that, I have had it with this team. They are heartless. Soft. Vanilla. You can put whatever adjective you like. That’s what they are.

There’s simply no explanation for losing in the fashion they did to a hungrier, more determined bitter rival. Make no mistake. The Rangers gave this game away to the Islanders. Oh. No question. They wanted it more. That much was obvious by the way they played the third period. A period our team used to be money at. But no longer. And not for a while either despite that silly “stat” finally going to waste in a mind boggling 3-1 loss at Barclays Center.

So, there you have it. It took over two years for the Rangers to lose in regulation when leading after two periods. The Isles dealt them their first defeat since Nov. 29, 2013. According to Seth Rothman, they were 70-0-3 since and an astounding 165-1-9 since 2/6/2010.

By scoring three unanswered goals in the third, the Islanders overtook the Rangers for second in the division. They’re now 24-15-5 with 53 points and 20 ROW (regulation overtime wins) in 44 games. The Rangers fell to 23-15-5 and remain in third with 51 points and 21 ROW in 43 games. Once again, they failed to win two in a row. They haven’t been able to do so since 11/21-23. Mind boggling.

On goals from Brock Nelson (17th), Nick Leddy (power play) and Kyle Okposo (empty net), the Islanders took the game from the Blueshirts. One they were willing to let slip in a awful third. Coach Alain Vigneault should burn the DVD. This was putrid. Unmistakable. Undeniable. Every bad term in the book. There was no reason for it either. It was a game they had and just handed away.

For two periods, the hockey was well played by both teams. Despite no scoring for the first 39 minutes, the action was intense and satisfying. There didn’t need to be any offense added for artificial reasons. It was a classic game between the Rangers and Islanders. Tense shifts. Good shots. Scoring chances. Physicality. Defense. Great goaltending. Neither Henrik Lundqvist nor Jaroslav Halak budged. It was fantastic hockey in a true #RivalryNight. Not the fake ones NBCSN makes up sometimes.

The real shame is that there won’t be a rematch tomorrow or Saturday. The Brooklyn installment of the rivalry is done unless these teams finally meet in the playoffs. A distinct possibility if form holds. That’s a big if. A lot can happen. Instead, they won’t meet again in the regular season until March 6 and April 7 at MSG. Four meetings between bitter rivals. And not one back-to-back or home and home. NHL logic.

For the Rangers, they’ll be thinking about how they unraveled in a brutal third. It took a perfect play for them to beat Halak. A goalie they can’t beat. Oh. Everyone else can. But not our team. On a play where all five skaters touched the puck, Marc Staal redirected a Kevin Hayes centering feed past Halak at 19:14 of the second. Chris Kreider drew the other assist. He also was in front and originally credited but never touched it. It was that offensive dynamo Staal’s goal all the way. His second of the season that had the Rangers ahead 1-0 after two.

Normally, that’s a comfortable position for the Blueshirts. But not this team. The same Hayes who made such a great play skating and creating for Staal made an equally mystifying play that led to the Isles’ tying goal. Foolishly skating back into his zone, he twice gave away the puck. After the first giveaway, he recovered it but then lost control to an equally prone Keith Yandle. Succumbing to forecheck pressure, Yandle threw the puck away right to Nelson who had no trouble continuing his upswing with his fourth goal in two games. A team-leading 18th from Adam Pelech at 1:53.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Dylan McIlrath took a mind numbing roughing minor post-whistle. Back in the lineup for an injured Dan Girardi (thumb), he played two good periods even responding to Matt Martin’s challenge at the end of the second. But he gave Nelson an extra shot following a whistle and got nabbed. The officiating was fine till that point. They let them play. It was bit tacky. But a penalty nonetheless that proved costly.

The Isles took full advantage when John Tavares was allowed to roam around down low and set up a wide open Leddy for a wrist shot in front past Lundqvist for the game-winner at 4:17. It took less than a minute which sums it up. The Rangers penalty kill isn’t as lock down anymore. The forwards are never in the right position or the D screw up. Even Kevin Klein who went down allowing Leddy to get off the shot. Derek Stepan didn’t do a good job either. Just like that, a game they were in winning position from became losing position with two Isles goals in the first 4:17 of the third. Disastrous.

As if to prove a point although I have no idea what Vigneault was doing, he had both Yandle and Dan Boyle out for the next shift. It didn’t take long for the Isles to get another glorious scoring chance with Lundqvist bailing them out with a huge stop on Isles’ immortal Brian Strait. How was he even that wide open to begin with? On the same shift, Okposo got nabbed for a soft hook on Yandle giving the Rangers a power play.

Here’s the difference between these two rivals. When the Isles get one, they bury it. When the Rangers do, they fumble it. A perfect word considering the tomfoolery that was playoff football the past weekend in Cincinnati and Minnesota. Yandle finally got more power play time because he was already out. It didn’t matter. Despite forcing Halak to make a tough stop, he wasn’t able to atone for his mistake on Nelson’s goal.

The agonizing thing about the power play is it doesn’t matter who the personnel are anymore. They fail miserably. What are they now? 0 for their last 18? You want a reason why this team can’t string wins together? Whoop there it is. Nobody consistently scores. Derick Brassard has been the only forward worth a damn lately. Not even Mats Zuccarello escapes criticism. And Rick Nash? Do you want me to go there? He was very good early but disappeared back to the perimeter in crunch time. He of 12 goals with two empty netters. Same guy who led them with 42 last year.

If you can’t protect leads and can’t score goals, you aren’t winning hockey games with any consistency. The even worse aspect is they got shutdown by the Islanders who were without their two best defensemen. No Johnny Boychuk and no Travis Hamonic. And they had no problem protecting the lead with Okposo hitting the open net with two seconds left.

There is something seriously wrong with the Rangers. This was an eye opener. A game they looked in control of with Tanner Glass even giving Cal Clutterbuck the chicken wave at the end of the second turning into a complete debacle. Lundqvist did nothing wrong on either goal. They were complete breakdowns with guys wide open from point blank range.

And that’s just it. That’s been the norm. Since 15-4-1 start, this is for all intents and purposes, your hockey team. A flawed one that could blow the playoffs. A far cry from what anyone envisioned.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Dylan McIlrath, NYR (a brutal penalty resulting in the Leddy winner)

2nd Star-Keith Yandle, NYR (great giveaway right to Nelson for tying goal)

1st Star-Kevin Hayes, NYR (from hero to goat with 2 giveaways on nightmarish shift)

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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