Rangers give fans a Christmas gift in comeback win over Islanders in final meeting, Gauthier and Goodrow spark eighth win in nine, Kakko gets winner to redeem himself, the ridiculous NHL schedule

Whenever the classic crosstown rivals get together, it makes for an entertaining game. Very early in the season, it was the Islanders who took the first two games from the Rangers including a third period comeback on Nov. 8 at MSG that was one of the low points so far.

Fast forward five weeks later and this time, it was the Rangers who turned the tables on the Islanders with a third period comeback to prevail 5-3 in front of a sellout crowd at The Garden on Thursday night.

Trailing by a goal after a frustrating second period where they had the better of the play except on the scoreboard, the Rangers used a three-goal third to take the third and absurd final meeting on Broadway. It was their eighth win in nine games to go into the Christmas break feeling good about themselves.

Not long ago, they were a mediocre 11-10-5 and looking lost. However, a great stretch over nine games that’s included wins over the Golden Knights, Avalanche, Devils, Leafs and now the Islanders has them up to 19-11-5 with 43 points through 35 games. That ties them with the Penguins, who remain in third place due to having two games in hand. They lost to the Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime.

Currently, ten points separates first place from sixth in the crowded Metropolitan Division. The Canes lead the pack with 50 points in 34 games. The Devils have 46 in 34 after dropping a 4-3 decision to the league-leading Bruins on Friday night. Then, the Pens and Rangers each have 43, but our side has played two more games (35-33). The resurgent Caps are up to 42 following wins over Ottawa and Winnipeg that moved them ahead of the Islanders, who rebounded last night with a 5-1 win over the sore loser Panthers. They have 40 points in 35 games.

It was important for the Rangers to bounce back from a tough one-goal loss at Pittsburgh. A winnable game that didn’t go their way. To finally get a win on home ice versus their kryptonite is meaningful. It snapped a five-game losing streak to the Islanders at MSG. Their last victory at home versus the Isles came on Jan. 16, 2021. A 5-0 shutout for Alexandar Georgiev in the second game of the 56-game abbreviated ’20-21 season.

In fact, it was only the second time Igor Shesterkin has beaten the Islanders in his career. He entered the game with a 1-7-1 record with a 3.15 GAA and .884 save percentage in nine appearances. When Anders Lee, Mat Barzal and then Alexander Romanov scored three goals on nine shots for a 3-2 Isles’ lead, it looked like it was going to be another forgettable tale.

Fortunately, Shesterkin didn’t allow anymore goals. In fact, he stopped the final nine shots to pick up his second career win against the Isles. He made 15 saves on just 18 shots. That speaks to how disciplined the Rangers were defensively. They didn’t give up much against an undisciplined Islanders who took six penalties to hurt their cause.

Following a day off, coach Gerard Gallant decided to healthy scratch Sammy Blais for his bad penalty that proved costly on Tuesday night. Back in the lineup was Julien Gauthier. After sitting out three straight, the energetic right wing was chopping at the bit to contribute. He played arguably his best game by scoring a beautiful goal on a breakaway and setting up Barclay Goodrow for the all important tying goal three minutes into the third period.

At the start, Goodrow was with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin for the fifth straight game. But Gallant made a switch that worked. Instead of keeping the gritty Goodrow up on the top line, he flipped him down to the checking line and bumped up rookie Vitaly Kravtsov to the first line. It worked out well.

Although he didn’t have a point, Kravtsov was noticeable throughout the game when teamed up with Zibanejad and Panarin. The birthday boy turned 23 yesterday. He was involved on the forecheck and had a couple of near misses. One close call came on a delayed call when he fired a shot wide from the slot. The other chance came later when he just missed wide on a tip of a Ryan Lindgren point shot.

While the first line was around the puck in the Islanders zone, it was the new checking line that featured Goodrow with Gauthier and Jonny Brodzinski who made an impact. They were heard from before the night was over.

Gallant stuck with Ben Harpur on the third pair over Libor Hajek. Harpur brings more physicality and hasn’t hurt himself playing with Braden Schneider. He also would factor in during the comeback with two assists to earn the Broadway hat.

If there was a frustrating aspect early, it was the Rangers’ inability to take advantage of their superior play. More often than not, they took it to the Islanders, who were without regulars Adam Pelech, Kyle Palmieri and Cal Clutterbuck. They’d also later lose key checking pivot Casey Cizikas to an injury. He didn’t return for the third.

Be that as it may, they still had to contend with Ilya Sorokin. A goalie who’s given them trouble. He entered 3-1-0 with a 1.99 GAA and .938 save percentage. He hasn’t started as many games versus the Rangers due to the uncanny dominance of veteran backup Semyon Varlamov. He’s out with an injury. Veteran Cory Schneider was the backup.

For most of the first period, the Rangers were on the attack. Islanders captain Anders Lee took an ill advised slashing minor on Ryan Lindgren in the offensive zone.

On their first power play, it was Artemi Panarin who got the two best chances. After having a slap shot denied by a sharp Sorokin, he had the misfortune of having a laser clang off the goalpost. Following a couple of Isles clears, the second unit came on. They were unable to get any shots as the penalty expired.

With Jonny Brodzinski in the box for taking down Scott Mayfield, the Rangers had a strong penalty kill. They didn’t allow a shot. The Islanders five-on-four was too predictable. Mika Zibanejad also got in the path of a Noah Dobson shot. The easy kill kept the momentum with the Blueshirts.

There weren’t many shots early. The Islanders were able to limit the Rangers to the outside, allowing Sorokin to make the saves. Even with them dictating the terms due to a better forecheck, the home side was kept off the board.

It wasn’t until some rare sustained pressure from the Long Island rival that there was a goal. On a long Alexander Romanov shot that he allowed a rebound to, Igor Shesterkin was unlucky when Lee got to the loose puck and banked it in off Lindgren for his 11th at 12:48. Exactly the kind of goal we’re used to seeing from the Islanders.

On a good offensive shift from the first line where Panarin drew a holding minor on Mayfield, they had Kravtsov set up in the slot. But he missed wide. The second power play of the period saw a more aggressive Panarin continue to shoot the puck. Sorokin made a tough save on a good shot. Dobson had a clearing attempt go straight out for a delay of game to hand the Rangers a two-man advantage for 32 seconds.

On the five-on-three, Sorokin made three saves including one on a Chris Kreider tip-in. His best actually came when he got a piece of a good Adam Fox shot to send it wide. Back to a five-on-four, Fox and Zibanejad combined to setup a Panarin one-timer that beat Sorokin to draw even at 17:14. That gave him three goals in the last four. He’s definitely playing much better. A good sign.

Shesterkin had to deal with a Zach Parise bid on the next shift. Parise was able to get around Jacob Trouba and test Shesterkin with a backhand that he handled. He only faced five shots in the period. Sorokin made eight saves on nine.

The second started promising. A Kravtsov takeaway led to a Zibanejad try that Sorokin calmly shutdown to get a stoppage. A strong shift by Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko saw them control the puck deep in Isles territory. Kakko came out from behind the net and skated all the way up top. However, he made a costly mistake.

Josh Bailey was able to force him into a turnover. He then pushed the puck towards Mat Barzal, who sped away from Kakko for a breakaway goal. One on one with Shesterkin, his fake was enough for Igor to bite. That allowed Barzal to go to the backhand for his fifth at 2:31 to give the Islanders their second lead.

On the bench dejected by his turnover, Kakko got a good talking to from Kreider. This was an example of great leadership. He screwed up. Having a veteran like Kreider there to talk to him really helped. He would later mention how it was only the second period. The game wasn’t over. As fate would have it, he would redeem himself much later.

Ahead by a goal, the Isles looked for more. But after stopping Lee from distance, Shesterkin made a crucial save to deny Dobson point blank to get a stoppage. That was a big stop a few minutes into the second. The Rangers couldn’t afford to fall behind by two.

On a good rush by rookie Simon Holmstrom, the young forward passed up a wide open shot for a low percentage pass that went nowhere. This was a critical mistake. It allowed Barclay Goodrow to get the puck up for Julien Gauthier. He turned on the jets and beat Sorokin on a breakaway by going backhand five-hole to tie the game for the second time at 5:30.

Instead of possibly 3-1, it was 2-2. Goodrow had been shifted to the checking line. He made an impact. The lead pass for Gauthier’s fifth was only the beginning for the key forward who Gallant can trust anywhere in the lineup.

But before they could relax, the Islanders came right back. Following a Brock Nelson missed tip-in that went wide, they kept coming. With Kravtsov able to change late along with Zibanejad, Panarin got stuck out there. On some good sustained pressure down low, Barzal moved the puck up to Romanov for a shot that beat Shesterkin stick side at 8:45.

On the play, Braden Schneider accidentally screened his own goalie. That was enough for Romanov to get his first as an Islander to restore a one-goal lead. He was acquired in a three-team deal with Montreal and Chicago last summer. Kirby Dach went to the Canadiens. It’s worked out well for them. Romanov is starting to round into form for the Isles. That might explain the Blackhawks.

The period was already entertaining. There had been three goals. But it was frustrating from a Ranger perspective because their mistakes wound up in the back of the net. They had to come back and take this game.

It was the last one against their biggest rival thanks to the ridiculous NHL schedule. They’ll also be done with the Devils on January 7. Brilliant. It’s unbelievable how bad the league is when it comes to scheduling enough rivalry games. They care more about having our teams face non-Conference opponents twice and usually in short order. It’s a joke.

If you can’t have at least six games against your closest rivals, there’s something wrong. I suggest each division play each other six times. That’s not a lot. Seven opponents. That’s 42 games. It would put more of an emphasis on divisional play. Isn’t that what most fans want?

You don’t need to see Connor McDavid more than once. I’d also make the other division just a home and home. That’s 16 games. That would put the total at 58, leaving 24 for the West. You could still book two games for eight teams from the other conference.

Regardless of the scheduling issues that leave fans wanting more, the Blueshirts kept getting chances on Sorokin. Trailing by a goal for the third time, Trouba was stopped from distance. Chytil went wide with a shot in closer. A delay of game on Romanov handed them another five-on-four.

On it, the Islanders penalty kill was content to let the top unit move the puck around and take away the middle. This made it difficult for them to execute those East/West plays they prefer. Sorokin made his best save of the game by getting over to deny a Zibanejad slap shot from the left circle. A terrific sprawling stop. He’d also deny Zibanejad once more. That was it for the Rangers power play.

Shortly after it expired, Chytil was out when the whistle blew. The Rangers got caught with too many men for a bench minor with 4:16 left. This was a critical point. They needed a big penalty kill. Shesterkin came up with three saves shorthanded including a key one on Nelson. He’d also turn aside Oliver Wahlstrom late.

In between, both Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey created shorthanded opportunities. But a sharp Sorokin shut them down to keep his team in front. He made a dozen saves on 13 shots in a busy second. At that point, he’d outplayed his close friend Shesterkin, who had allowed three goals on 13 shots. But he did steady towards the conclusion.

Before the period concluded, the gritty Pageau made sure to catch Kravtsov with a good hit after a dump in. That’s how the game is played. At least Kravtsov absorbed it and was fine moving forward. He finished with 12:14 of ice time including 1:34 on PP2.

Down a goal to their bitter nemesis, the Rangers owed the Islanders a third period. The last time out, it was all Isles as they got three unanswered to prevail 4-3 in regulation. It was time for a role reversal.

As if it to confirm that, the checking line struck to tie the game for the third time at the three-minute mark of the third. On a Harpur pass down for Gauthier, he was able to get off an innocent looking wrist shot from the circle that changed direction off Goodrow by Sorokin to level it up again.

It definitely caught Sam Rosen by surprise. All it was was a simple play where Gauthier took the shot. Goodrow was in the right position on Robin Salo to have the puck go off him and in for his eighth with 17 minutes remaining. Goodrow can play anywhere and be effective. He has enough experience to understand how he’ll be used. He’s a winner. He’s quietly having a good season. Grit and intangibles matter.

A couple of shifts later, Trouba had an opening. After taking a Miller pass, he had room to shoot the puck. However, he thought it would get blocked. Instead, he went around the Islanders net for a tricky wrap-around that Sorokin kept out. That led to a stoppage. It was a good play by Trouba. His game has begun to steady lately. With Miller playing better, that’s a positive sign at the break.

On another shift, Miller got open, but had his shot go wide. A minute later, Romanov hooked just enough into Zibanejad at center ice to get called for a minor. He wasn’t happy. It was a bit tacky. But that’s how it’s called.

After a face-off loss to Pageau and clear from Isles defenseman Sebastian Aho (the other one), the Rangers quickly transitioned into the Islanders zone and got it set up. Yet another goalpost was struck. This time, Zibanejad had a ripper ring the goalpost. No team has had more shots draw iron. It’s insane.

They were able to get a couple of more shots. That included a nice pass in the middle for a Trocheck shot that Sorokin handled and covered up. Another good save. He’d also get a piece of a Lafreniere tip-in.

Following a Shesterkin overplay that resulted in a dangerous turnover, he had to scramble back and stop a long Aho try. He has a habit of over handling pucks. He’s still good at outlets. But sometimes gets overly aggressive.

With less than eight minutes left in a tie game, the Rangers got a bit sloppy. A turnover by Vesey almost cost them. Brock Nelson had a shot go off the crossbar. On the next shift, more scary play allowed Pageau to gain the zone and have a good wrist shot ring off the crossbar. It was the Isles turn to have tough puck luck.

That’s the kind of rivalry game it was. A bit of everything except a scrap. Vesey would get nailed from behind by an undisciplined Mayfield, who astonishingly protested the obvious cross-checking call.

But on their sixth power play, the Rangers couldn’t shoot straight. Panarin missed wide twice. Trouba also had a shot go over the top. He did get the one shot on net from distance that Sorokin handled. Penalty killed.

Just when it looked like the Islanders were out of trouble, K’Andre Miller made a brilliant play at the blue line. Stepping up at the right time, he somehow sent a brilliant pass across that found the stick of Kakko, who buried it for the game-winner with 2:47 remaining.

What a play and goal it was. Kakko’s ninth gave the Rangers their first lead. Judging by his emotional reaction, you could see how much it meant. It started out roughly for him. But the 2019 second pick has found his game. He’s got five goals and seven points in eight games. That’s exactly what they need from him.

Shesterkin was called upon to make one more key stop. He didn’t have many, but denied the sneaky Pageau on a backhand. The important aspect is he did make timely saves following the three he allowed.

With Sorokin off for a six-on-five, Trocheck showed his strength. After winning a big draw against Pageau, he took a Goodrow feed and warded off Barzal to send the puck into an open net with 1:32 left in regulation. That sealed it.

Despite centering the third line since Gallant made a switch, Trocheck has excelled. A solid three zone player, he’s up to six consecutive games with at least a point. Over that stretch, that includes four two-point games. He’s 3-7-10 over the last half dozen. He has 13 points (4-9-13) over the last nine during the same span where the team has won eight times. A winning formula.

Trocheck would also block a shot with the Isles looking to pull within one. He’s the kind of player you can trust late in games. A compliment for a guy who gets the jersey dirty. That’s why they signed him. It’s nice to see Vinny T working out.

This was a really good win. Not just because it was the Islanders. But it also came on the heels of a tough one-goal loss to the Pens. It was vital to rebound and go into the holiday break with eight wins over their last nine.

The division has tightened up. Especially with the Caps finding their game. They’ve been sparked by the brother of Ryan Lindgren. Charlie Lindgren is the one making the big saves with Darcy Kuemper out. He’s winning the games.

Congratulations to Alexander Ovechkin on making history by scoring twice during last night’s win over Winnipeg. He tied and passed the legendary Gordie Howe for second all-time with 802 goals. He now only trails Wayne Gretzky for the most goals in NHL history. Ironically, 92 behind. The unbreakable single season record the Great One once had for Edmonton.

With 22 goals so far and doing it with key players out, Ovechkin continues to amaze the hockey world. He truly is a blessing to a league that sometimes is too vanilla. A passionate superstar who plays with the enthusiasm of a kid, it’s astonishing how good Ovi still is. There’s a chance he could tie or break Gretzky’s league record of 894 goals sometime in ’22-23. If or when he does, it’ll be extraordinary.

It truly is great for hockey. Who ever would’ve thought the Great Eight would still be going strong all this time later. He’s been a breathtaking player since he entered the league in ’05-06. It’s astonishing what both Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are still doing. That they came in as back-to-back top picks remains unbelievable. Cherish them while we still can.

With it officially the break, get ready for the IIHF U20 World Junior Championships in Halifax and New Brunswick. Canada boasts a very strong squad featuring Shane Wright and future 2023 top pick Connor Bedard. He’s already wowing hockey fans with jaw dropping goals in tune-ups.

With USA being captained by Devils prospect Luke Hughes and Slovakia led by Simon Nemec, it promised to be a good tournament. I’ll try to have more on what to look for before it starts on Boxing Day.

To everyone. Wishing a Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!!!!! Stay warm.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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1 Response to Rangers give fans a Christmas gift in comeback win over Islanders in final meeting, Gauthier and Goodrow spark eighth win in nine, Kakko gets winner to redeem himself, the ridiculous NHL schedule

  1. hasan4978 says:

    The NHL wants to have its cake and eat it too…the playoff format is like 90% division series for the first two rounds, but the regular season schedule doesn’t actually cultivate those rivalries to give you juice for the playoffs. Sure you have built-in ones like the NY/NJ area games, the Original Sixes, the Canadian teams – but how can anyone take random division matchups like Carolina-Columbus seriously as a division rivalry if they’re only going to play four times a season?

    Baseball’s going to a more homogenous schedule too, all for the sake of expanding interleague play.


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