Hungrier Islanders own MSG again with 3-2 comeback win over Rangers


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The Islanders celebrate a goal after once again owning the Rangers when it mattered most at MSG to post a big 3-2 win. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYIslanders.

When you have a wounded opponent down, you have to step on them. When it comes right down to it, the Rangers never finish anyone on what’s supposed to be home ice at MSG. Instead, they let opponents get up off the ropes and dictate play until they come away with two points.

In the latest installment of a classic rivalry between bitter foes, the Islanders again used The Garden as their personal stomping ground to come back and post a 3-2 win over the Rangers. It couldn’t have come at a better time. With the win, they stayed in play for the final wildcard. They had to win due to the Maple Leafs defeating the Blue Jackets 5-2 to vault over idle Boston into third place in the Atlantic. It’s now the Bruins the Islanders are chasing. They trail them by two points with one game at hand. Boston has nine left while the Isles have 10. It includes a pivotal showdown in Brooklyn this Saturday following a visit at Pittsburgh Friday night.

The Islanders didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch. But when it mattered most, their desperation and intensity came through outscoring the Rangers 2-0 in the third period. A period the Manhattan side is usually their best in. I guess it doesn’t apply when they’re home. They’ve now dropped seven straight games at MSG. The longest home losing streak in 24 years. In a word, pathetic. Emotionless and passionless hockey that never is 60 minutes. Had they kept up the battle level instead of taking their foot off the gas pedal, they’d be two points closer to the playoffs.

The game swung on two Rangers penalties. Special teams was a factor. The penalty kill continued to fail miserably allowing consecutive Islanders power play goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd to lose the hockey game. For some reason, they can’t kill penalties anymore. Not to say I told you so. But the penalty kill failure has come with Dan Girardi out. Does he make that much of a difference? One thing you know. Girardi will get his body dirty when they’re shorthanded.

The two goals scored by the Isles were almost identical. Kulemin’s coming in front off a second and third effort set up by rookies Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang. Ladd’s also came thanks to some yeoman work from Anders Lee behind the net. Lee had a good game finishing with a goal and assist. Ladd simply parked himself in front and got rewarded with his 20th coming with 7:22 left in regulation.

The truth of the matter is it was a very winnable game for the Blueshirts. They played an emotional second period scoring both their goals sandwiched around a Lee tally. Mats Zuccarello started it when he finished his 15th in front off a Mika Zibanejad feed for a power play goal. Derek Stepan added a helper.

With the crowd still buzzing, the Islanders did what they always do. Come right back to silence the Ranger side. They used a good transition rush to draw even. Started by Nick Leddy, he passed for Beauvillier who cut in and got off a tough low shot that Antti Raanta couldn’t control. That allowed Lee to steer home his 27th less than a minute later. He beat rookie defenseman Brady Skjei, who didn’t have a good game. It happens.

As promised, Alain Vigneault made two changes following warm ups. Playing a tough rival who plays physical, he dressed Tanner Glass on the fourth line. He replaced rookie Pavel Buchnevich, who didn’t deserve to be scratched. He had assists in the last two games while finding chemistry with Oscar Lindberg and Jimmy Vesey. But the coach wanted more toughness also dressing Steven Kampfer in place of Adam Clendening as the sixth defenseman.

While much will be made of the two lineup decisions, both Glass and Kampfer played hard. They were the least of the team’s issues. With the game tied, Glass decided to drop the gloves with Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield. He easily won the bout landing some decisive blows especially with his left, energizing the building.

Interestingly, the Rangers responded. A couple of minutes later, Rick Nash scored for the second straight game. Taking a pass from Lindberg, he was able to squeak a shot through Thomas Greiss to put the Rangers back up 2-1 at 6:36 of the second. Greiss got a piece of it but it trickled in. Nick Holden drew the secondary helper.

The second period also featured a huge fight in the stands. It was over in the next section down below where two fans got into it. Everyone was distracted. It was a long fight before MSG security got there. I wonder what they could’ve been doing. Needless to say, both were ejected. There some heavy blows landed. Those type of fights haven’t happened at MSG in a while. It reminded me of the old days when rivalry games blew up.

In a period they got 14 shots on Greiss, the Rangers were unable to capitalize on momentum. They had some great chances including one point blank but a sliding Greiss made the save of the game. If he doesn’t make that stop, it’s doubtful the Islanders come back and win. He finished with 34 saves and deserved one of the game’s three stars. They gave Lee first and Beauvillier second while Nash got third star.

It wasn’t a good night for John Tavares. The Isles captain was very undisciplined taking three minor penalties. The second one the Rangers scored on with Zuccarello going to the hard area for the team’s one power play goal. They went 1-for-4. But it was a missed opportunity that really hurt.

Early in the third, Brock Nelson was off for tripping. It was a golden opportunity for the Rangers to extend the lead. Instead, the Islanders killed it off. When they got back to even strength, they immediately created chances with Kevin Hayes taking a bad slashing minor. That was where the game changed. Hayes had a very poor game on for a goal against and lost six of seven draws in 19 shifts (12:07). He has not distinguished himself since J.T. Miller was moved up to the second line. Honestly, Hayes and Michael Grabner shouldn’t be playing with Jesper Fast. It’s an awful experiment. At least you notice the other two when they’re not scoring.

The Islanders stuck with it. They scored with 30 seconds remaining on the Hayes penalty. How did they do it? By winning the battle down low. Ho-Sang and Beauvillier combined to set up Kulemin for his 12th at 5:01 of the third.

The second power play was set up by a needless Grabner delay of game minor. Honestly, I thought the puck deflected. But the refs ruled otherwise. And so, one of the cheesiest rules in the book cost the Rangers. Unable to stop their hungrier opponent in the trenches, they watched as Ladd slid home a perfect Lee backhand feed at 12:38. Tavares got a assist. It’s about the only positive thing he did. He really wasn’t a factor and stunk.

It says a lot about the Islanders’ character that they were able to still come from behind and win without a signature performance from their captain. They wanted it more.

I thought a big mistake was how the Rangers played with the lead. They sat back and were too passive. They let the Islanders grab momentum. At the end of the second, Raanta made a huge save on a Tavares feed at the buzzer to preserve the lead. The Isles continued to press the action and got the just reward.

Most of the Rangers’ 11 shots came once they fell behind. The shots were misleading. They didn’t get desperate until the Isles’ two goals put them down. Then they made a great effort to try to tie it. But they missed so many point blank chances, it was sad. Pathetic. At one point, they had the Isles pinned in for about 90 seconds. They were at their mercy. But the combo of Stepan, Zuccarello and Chris Kreider couldn’t score. When Greiss made an easy glove save with 2:57 left, I had seen enough.

How many times can we watch this team get outworked and out-hustled by the Islanders at MSG. It’s a joke. And with that, they lost the season series 3-1 to the harder working and more desperate team.

I’m done.

Ladd scores his game-winner on the power play:

Ho-Sang passes puck and it deflects off Beauvillier and Kulemin for the tying power play goal as Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal watch:

Derek Stepan tries to explain away another tough home loss in what he called a riddle they have to solve. Only three home games left.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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