Rangers blanked again by Varlamov as grinding Islanders clinch playoffs in final game at Nassau Coliseum


Unlike Thursday’s travesty which was a total humiliation, tonight was predictable. Skating without physical cogs Jacob Trouba, Chris Kreider and Ryan Lindgren, the Rangers were no match for the Islanders. Behind 28 saves from Semyon Varlamov, they blanked the Rangers 3-0 in the final game between the archivals at Nassau Coliseum.

It clinched a playoff berth for the Islanders. It also was the second straight shutout for Varlamov over the Rangers. Astonishingly, he shut them out four times this year. There isn’t much to say. In eight meetings, the Rangers won only two versus their number one rival. They finished 2-5-1 against them. That included three straight losses in regulation. They were outscored 13-1.

In between beating up on the division cupcakes, they lost three games in bad fashion to a stingy, tight checking opponent that limits time and space. That’s the major difference between the two teams. Until Rangers management addresses the lack of grit and grind, it’ll remain the same. They can’t compete with the Islanders, who struggle against the Caps and Pens. But have zero problem with our soft team.

In actuality, it wasn’t a fair fight. Without Trouba and Lindgren, the defense got exposed badly. So did the team’s youth. Particularly K’Andre Miller. It wasn’t a good game for him. His partner Zac Jones fared better. He looks like a good skating D who can find offense while using his speed to recover. One rookie has only been here a week while the other has played all year. Make whatever conclusion you want.

With the exception of one scoring chance he created when the game was decided, it was another no show for Artemi Panarin. So much for him making a difference in these big games. Swarmed by Barry Trotz’s flock of interchangeable parts, Panarin went a second game in a row without a shot. His line with Ryan Strome and Vitaly Kravtsov were on for two goals against. That included Ranger killer Anthony Beauvillier scoring the first of a pair 4:39 in. A play where both Kravtsov and Strome got lost in coverage.

There wasn’t much to like. Although they didn’t quit like the MSG embarrassment, the Rangers were unable to make a dent in the Islander defense or Varlamov. It was the NHL debut of Morgan Barron. He wore number 47 and played the left wing in place of Brett Howden (broken leg) on the fourth line. He was one of the bright spots along with Kevin Rooney and the out of jail Julien Gauthier, who actually was the team’s most noticeable player. This after missing 14 straight games because he couldn’t crack the lineup. He drew a penalty and created a scoring chance out of sheer hustle. If only more Blueshirts had followed suit.

In the rematch, Alex Georgiev got the nod against Varlamov. It didn’t matter what his career record was versus the Islanders. They got to him early thanks to a blown coverage and scored three times on 25 shots. It wasn’t his fault. The team lost too many battles early which made life tough for Georgiev. He dealt with traffic all game and was forced to make hard saves while Varlamov had another easy night.

On the game’s first goal, Nick Leddy and Josh Bailey combined to set up Beauvillier in the circle. After both Strome and Kravtsov failed to check him, he released a good wrist shot that snuck in far side for his 12th goal. Ironically, he now has 12 career goals against the Rangers after getting another in the second period. A good player, he does his best work in these rivalry games. If only that were true for Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.

With little physicality, it showed. The Rangers had no grind to their game. If you can’t win the one-on-one battles through the neutral zone, you’re toast. There was a lot of nothing going on. Once the Islanders got the first goal, the game was over. They are great front-runners. The fact is they hardly lose when they score first. Combined with a great record on home ice, it looked like the JV versus the Varsity. Without Lindgren, Tarmo Reunanen was reinserted into the lineup. He looked alright in 17-plus minutes. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes. A positive for it being his second NHL game.

On a quiet night where the refs decided to put away the whistles, that favored the more physical and plodding team on Long Island. The only power play in the first was drawn by Gauthier on Kyle Palmieri. But with a chance to tie the score, the top power play unit couldn’t get it done. They wound up with four shots on goal. But you never got the sense they’d score. Not with Panarin doing nothing. And not with Adam Fox again turned into a non-factor. As well as he’s played against the rest of the division, Fox wound up with only one assist in eight games. The Islanders have a way of shutting down players.

Shortly after Palmieri returned, a misplay at the Isles blue line allowed Mat Barzal to steal the puck from Brendan Smith. Taking off like a rocket, he broke in and beat Georgiev on a breakaway by going to a backhand tuck at 16:22. The issue was a risky pass from Miller that put Smith in a bad spot. Bailey forced the turnover and that allowed Barzal to score uncontested for his 15th. Joe Micheletti went nuts over the poor puck decision. The kind of high risk pass that doesn’t work against the Islanders. East/West nonsense.

At that point, there really was no reason to watch. Of course, I kept it on. I’ll be honest. When Beauvillier made it 3-0 only 62 seconds into the second period, I thought about turning it off. If the Islanders had gotten a fourth goal, I would have. It just isn’t fun watching your bitter rival beat up on the team you cheer for. Especially given the circumstances. The final game of a near 50-Year rivalry at that old barn and this is what we got. It really was mind numbing.

When Steve Valiquette is making good points about how they defend and screen out their own goalie by giving opposing shooters more room like on goals 1 and 3 for Beauvillier, it really hits home. That’s how far away this team is. The talent is there. But the will isn’t. Nobody stepped up in these games without Kreider or Trouba. I’m not referring to the kids either. Alexis Lafreniere wasn’t intimidated by the Isles. He set up a good chance for Pavel Buchnevich. It was a quiet game for the top pick. But he didn’t look out of place.

Until the late stages, Kaapo Kakko wasn’t heard from. He got one power play shift. Of course, he was set up but missed. I couldn’t understand why Kravtsov saw no power play time. What’s the point of overusing Colin Blackwell? The season is over. He hasn’t exactly been filling the score sheet. Not a whole lot makes sense. That’s my biggest criticism of Quinn. At this point, it’s time for change. Especially with the elimination number at one.

The best chance was Lafreniere finding Buchnevich open for a point blank opportunity against Varlamov. He was thwarted by the Isles starter. That was it. The Rangers had 10 of the 14 shots in the third. It didn’t matter. They never had any chance of scoring. It was a clinic by the Islanders defensively.

I said this wouldn’t be long in a tweet. I wasn’t kidding. There’s nothing left to say. At least they competed. But if there aren’t any changes in the off-season, I don’t think I’ll be alone in wondering why. They can’t roll back the same roster. It’s not good enough.

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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