Like a mountaineer desperately trying to hoist himself to the next ledge, last night the up-and-down Islanders encountered their biggest obstacle.
Similar to a boulder blocking their path, coach Doug Weight’s skaters had to somehow surmount a roaring Rangers sextet seeking its seventh straight victory.
Yet, somehow, the Brooklynites got their game back on the rails and managed a surprising 4-2 triumph at a tumultuous Barclays Center.
Ryan McDonagh says the Rangers were unable to build upon their strong start in their 4-2 loss to the Islanders.
Paced by captain John Tavares, the Isles — at least for the moment — erased the memory of the spanking inflicted on Tuesday night in Toronto with one of their most valiant efforts.
As for the Rangers, well, streaks don’t go on for an eternity in the NHL.
OVERVIEW: The Blueshirts drew first blood and had chances for a two-goal lead in the first period. But the combination of a tenacious Islanders sextet and superior Thomas Greiss goaltending kept the home club in the game. Goals by the suddenly surging Anders Lee and Andrew Ladd put the Islanders ahead to stay despite the Rangers usual third-period press. This time it fell short as the Law of Averages finally turned thumbs-down on Alain Vigneault‘s club.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- THE POWER PLAY: The Rangers man-advantage found the scoresheet, but struggled to make a big play when it was most needed. With a 4 on 3 power play, New York failed to convert and tie the game at two. With a four-minute power play, the Blueshirts gave up a shorthanded goal to Nikolay Kulemin, which made it 3-1 at 3:03 of the third period. Jimmy Vesey reduced the deficit to 3-2, but the visitors missed-chances essentially negated the positive effect of the goal.
Steve Valiquette takes a closer look at the Rangers' 4-on-3 power play and breaks down why the lack of a net-front presence hindered the team's chances of scoring a goal.
- START OF THE SECOND PERIOD: The Islanders came out of the gate in the second period with the edge. Anders Lee knotted the score at one at 2:43 of the second. Later in the frame, Marc Staal lost a puck battle to Stephen Gionta who deftly centered the rubber to Ladd, who made it 2-1 at 6:24 of the second. That go-ahead goal galvanized the Islanders who became relentless puck-pursuers throughout the rest of the game.
- BROOKLYN BLUES: The Blueshirts have yet to win at the Islanders new home. After falling in the first meeting, the visitors failed to win the second meeting at the Barclays Center. The Rangers are 0 for 4 in their trips to Kings County.
- BIG BAD LADD: Andrew Ladd has haunted the Seventh Avenue Skaters. The left wing has three goals against the Blueshirts, including the game-winner in the December sixth contest at Barclays Center. He netted two goals in this latest meeting of the inter-borough rivals.
- GREISS NOT NICE: Under severe pressure to rebound from the Islanders 7-1 debacle in Toronto, coach Doug Weight’s number one goalie delivered a clutch performance. His efforts inspired his mates, especially in the third period when Greiss deflated the Rangers persistent attacks.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- EASY VESEY: Back in solid offensive form, rookie Jimmy Vesey put the Rangers within a goal in the third period with his 14th goal of the season. The power play tally was hotly contested by goalie Greiss who claimed interference on the play. But the challenge was rejected by the officials.
Jimmy Vesey pokes a loose puck into the net for a power-play goal, getting the Rangers within one of the Islanders.
- NICK OF TIME: Defenseman Nick Holden opened the game’s scoring in the first period. It was his ninth goal and makes him yet another surprise ace landed by G.M. Jeff Gorton.
- STEPAN-UP: When it comes to winning the face-off, Derek Stepan was dominant with a Capital D. He won a dozen of 17 draws for a 70.6 percentage.
- A-1 PK: The Blueshirts were two for two on the penalty kill. The Rangers have not allowed a power play goal against in nine of the last dozen games, including each of the last three.
TURNING POINT: Leading by a goal, the Islanders were killing a penalty when Nikolay Kulemin scored his first shorthanded goal of the season at 3:03 of the third period. It gave the Islanders a much-needed two-goal cushion and eventually became the game-winning tally. John Tavares, relatively new to the penalty kill, relentlessly harassed the Rangers near the goal post and finally fed Kulemin in front for the tally.
BEST RANGERS GOAL: In the first period after two Islanders — Calvin de Haan and Andrew Ladd — collided at center ice, the Rangers exploited the break. Mats Zuccarello held the puck and crossed a pass to defenseman Holden who then beat Greiss for the game’s first goal in the opening period.
Steve Valiquette breaks down the Rangers' first goal and explains why Mats Zuccarello's pass over to Nick Holden was the right choice made by the Blueshirts' playmaker.
BEST SAVE: Thomas Greiss preserved the Islanders one-goal lead when he got his pad on Chris Kreider‘s one-timer after Zuccarello fed him from behind the net with 2:06 remaining in the game.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “We just had a hard time making plays in their own end. I have to give the Islanders credit. They played a good game. We seem to have issues in Barclays Center right now. Nothing we can do about that. We’ve got to get ready for our next game.”
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “The Islanders third goal was a killer. Sometimes when a team has a man advantage it might rely on someone else to do the job. We just didn’t sort it out and that was the difference.”
- DOUG WEIGHT: “We had leadership from out captain (Tavares) especially on the penalty-kill when he fed Nikolay for the shorthander. For us, it was a case of not being denied. It was big.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: The absolutely sizzling Washington Capitals visit The Garden on Sunday afternoon. This could be a playoff preview. Game time is 12:30 p.m. TV: NBC Network.
BOTTOM LINE: The Rangers winning streak was not going to last forever.
Meanwhile, the playoff-seeking Islanders were more motivated and — over the course of three periods — essentially out-hustled the Blueshirts. Credit to the home club, as A.V. pointed out.