An unpredictable game between bitter rivals had a odd conclusion. In the first period of the third installment of the Battle of New York, the Islanders and Rangers combined for seven goals on the game’s first 19 shots. After the Garden hosts finally caught their Brooklyn rivals from a three-goal deficit on a Derick Brassard power play goal with 8:21 left in the third period, it was the Islanders who had the last laugh.
Off a clean faceoff win from Casey Cizikas, who easily beat Derek Stepan, he set up Cal Clutterbuck’s game-winner with 1:28 left. Frans Nielsen’s empty netter 27 seconds later sealed an Isles’ 6-4 win over the Rangers. It improved the Brooklyn side to 3-0-0 in the season series and pulled them within three points of second place with three games at hand.
”We know we have games in hand, we know the situation,” Kyle Okposo explained after scoring one of three early Islander goals within a 1:55 span to put them up 3-0 on a flat Blueshirts who at one point were out-shot 10-0 before awakening. ”Obviously we’re fighting for home ice down the stretch. We’re fighting for a playoff spot.”
While the Manhattan side of the New York rivalry didn’t set their alarms for the early 5 PM start Sunday evening, the Isles were ready from the outset. Johnny Boychuk and Brock Nelson scored 45 seconds apart stunning MSG. Following a Kevin Hayes minor penalty for slashing, Okposo tallied on the power play at 4:45. That forced Alain Vigneault to use his timeout.
Finally getting their game together, the Rangers fought back getting the next two. On consecutive shifts, Oscar Lindberg (1st in 23 games) and Tanner Glass scored 38 seconds apart to cut the deficit to one with still 8:06 left in a wild first period. After Lindberg converted from Eric Staal, who recorded his first point as a Blueshirt, Glass took a favorable bounce off a wide Dominic Moore carom and snapped a rebound into an open side for his third.
But any momentum was halted temporarily when Boychuk notched his second of the period 80 seconds later from Anders Lee and Nick Leddy to restore a two-goal Isles’ lead. However, it was short lived. Staal got his first as a Ranger 31 seconds later by beating Jaroslav Halak in front from Dan Boyle and Viktor Stalberg. That made it seven goals in the first 13:45 of the contest.
”(The) first period was the weirdest period of hockey in my life,” Antti Raanta said following the game after allowing five goals on 31 shots in the loss. ”It felt good early, got good saves, then suddenly five minutes off the clock and the game is 3-0.”
Raanta made his second straight start with Henrik Lundqvist again unavailable with neck spasms. Marc Staal also missed his second game in the last three due to back spasms. Apparently, after toughing out the win against the Caps, he didn’t hydrate himself enough from the flu which caused him to be in tremendous pain. So, he wasn’t available. Dylan McIlrath took his place. Complicating matters, he was injured on a Clutterbuck hit and left the game in the first after taking six shifts (3:38). That put the Rangers down to five D.
Vigneault didn’t like J.T. Miller’s game. He was in the doghouse for most of the second and third period. He committed two defensive mistakes on Isles’ goals and only received 6:29 in 13 shifts. Miller’s game has dropped off lately. He only took one shift in the third with the Rangers already shorthanded playing their third game in four nights. It didn’t make much sense. I get that the coach wasn’t pleased but punishing him that way didn’t help the cause. It’s also inconsistent with how he’s handled Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider for similar screw ups.
You didn’t see Isles’ coach Jack Capuano doing that. Though once the Rangers got back in it to trail 3-2, he didn’t waste any time using his timeout. Capuano is content to roll four lines. Especially his very cohesive and physical fourth line. On a night where Tavares was quiet with just an assist, Capuano’s grind line was the difference. They always cause the Rangers problems.
”It was a great play call by Zeeker,” Clutterbuck said in reference to Cizikas. ”I have to give him a lot of credit. He won the faceoff right on my tape. I caught it and flung it on net.”
As Vigneault pointed out in the post game, there weren’t many forwards going. He singled out Staal’s unit with Lindberg and Stalberg. Playing his third game since being acquired at the trade deadline, Staal dominated throughout with a goal and assist while going 20-for-22 on faceoffs. Something that you never see with Ranger centers. He was unbelievable. Unfortunately, he had just finished a long shift when Vigneault sent out Stepan for a defensive draw against Cizikas. In his words at his locker, “I choked,” while adding, “It sucks.”
There’s not much else to be said. Dan Girardi also struggled as did Yandle and Kevin Klein. Ryan McDonagh also had a tough one with four giveaways. As a team, the Blueshirts had 19. That included four from Brassard and three from Girardi. Chris Kreider also had two including failing to get a puck deep. He saw reduced time in the third. There were too many passengers.
”I’m not sure to be honest with you,” Stepan also noted of the sluggish start. ”Maybe the three (games) in four nights, but that’s no excuse. I thought we really responded well after being down 3-0.”
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Travis Hamonic, NYI (assist, shutdown D flies under radar, +3 in 28 shifts-27:34 incl. 23:43 ES, 3:51 SH)
2nd Star-Eric Staal, NYR (goal-1st as a Blueshirt, assist, 6 shot attempts, 20-and-2 FO, +1 in 19:07 incl. 17:54 ES)
1st Star-Cal Clutterbuck, NYI (game-winner with 1:28 left in 3rd, 3 hits-seriously?)
Notes: Despite the loss, the Rangers got good news on McIlrath. Per New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis afterwards, his injury isn’t supposed to be serious. It isn’t the same knee that was operated on according to a team source. … Islanders have now won six of the last seven meetings at MSG. … Halak finished with 22 saves to remain unbeaten versus NYR in his career. He’s never faced them in the postseason. … NYI were without D Calvin de Haan. … In two games (both losses) against Pens and Isles, Rangers allowed 10 goals. Eight were with a goalie in and without Marc Staal. Coincidence? Also worth noting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored in the same game against NYR for the first time since 2009. Coincidence II? … Rangers are back at it Tuesday visiting the Sabres. … Islanders host the Pens the same night.