The New York Rangers are fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference while the New York Islanders are playing for pride. But Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum, it was the Islanders who played like a desperate team as they handily downed the Rangers 6-2 in a physical contest that could only be played between two rivals.
The Isles scored four times in the second period to put the game away and chase Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Six different Islanders scored while goalie Al Montoya, a former first round pick of the Rangers, made 25 saves to earn a satisfying win against the organization that drafted him.
It was an inspired game for the Isles, who entered the game without their leading goal goal scorer, Michael Grabner, who was with his girlfriend for the birth of their son. Defensemen Bruno Gervais and Milan Jurcina were out with injuries which left AHL call-ups Dylan Reese and Mark Katic in the lineup along with Ty Wishart who was just recalled after Andrew MacDonald’s season ending injury last week.
Late in the first period, things got worse for the Isles when Marian Gaborik crushed center Frans Nielsen into the boards hard. Nielsen left the game with a head injury and did not return while Gaborik received only two minutes for boarding. The Islanders were suddenly without their top penalty killing duo of Grabner and Nielsen and without several defensemen, yet they managed to gut it out and kill all eight Rangers power play chances including a pair of 5-on-3 chances.
“I’ve got to hand it to my team,” Montoya said with pride. “Our penalty kill was unbelievable tonight. They may have had six, seven or eight power plays but I don’t know how many shots they had, just a handful.”
Instead of mourning the loss of Nielsen, the Isles rallied around him and the hit that sent him out of the game. “Fransie’s probably our best player, all around, he’s been unbelievable this year,” said P.A. Parenteau. “You don’t want to see him go down like that and I think we generated a lot after that hit.”
The Rangers led 1-0 after 20 minutes on Vinny Prospal’s with 5:35 left in the period but the Islanders took control in the second period with two sets of quick goals. First Blake Comeau and Radek Martinek scored 33 seconds apart to give the Isles a 2-1 lead 3:57 into the second stanza. Then Jesse Joensuu and Parenteau tallied 1:16 apart in the final six minutes of the period to make it 4-1 Islanders and take all of the remaining air out of the Rangers sails.
Rangers Coach John Tortorella pulled Henrik Lundqvist after two periods and let Chad Johnson finish up the game in goal. Johnson allowed third period goals to Matt Moulson and Trevor Gillies before Brandon Prust scored in the game’s waning seconds to make the final score 6-2.
With the game so one-sided, the two rivals took to throwing punches in the third period with the bloodiest being a one-sided battle between Michael Haley and Sean Avery. The Rangers agitator left the ice bleeding from a large cut over his eye. Unlikely players also joined in the fisticuffs when Brandon Dubinsky dueled with Jack Hillen and Reese and Ruslan Fedotenko dropped the gloves. All in all, the two teams combined for 122 penalty minutes.
“We stuck up for one another,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano explained. “Guys who don’t usually scrap, scrapped and got into some altercations and for me that’s a sign of togetherness and that they’re competing at a high level.”
All the fighting couldn’t erase the fact that the Rangers badly needed the two points in the standings but didn’t put forth a solid effort. Coach John Tortorella refused to address the media after the game, saying there was nothing he wanted to say about his club’s performance.
Meanwhile, the young Islanders took a particular joy in playing spoiler to their biggest rivals. “I’ll say that with a big smile on my face,” Travis Hamonic admitted. “We played a great team game from start to finish. I think the coaching staff put in a great game plan as to how we wanted to play against them and the specialty teams did really good tonight as well.”
“This is a big win for us as a team and this is a big win for me,” Montoya said. “This is a team that steps up and its a different guy every night and that’s what makes the team successful. We’re going to be something special very soon.”
Overall, this was a most satisfying win for the Islanders. “[This win] was huge for us,” Comeau admitted. “[It’s a] big rivalry. Obviously, they’re a desperate team trying to get into the playoffs. We’re playing for pride, playing for each other and the logo. I thought it was a good effort for us tonight, and a great win.”
The Islanders get another chance to play spoiler when they host the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night. The Canes are presently ninth in the Eastern Conference, just three points behind the Rangers and Buffalo Sabres in the race for the final playoff spots.
The Rangers won the season series between the teams 4-2-0.
Isles defenseman Ty Wishart left the game in the third period with a shoulder injury and did not return.
The game was a sellout with 16,250 in attendance.
Isles defenseman Dylan Reese had three assists while P.A. Parenteau and John Tavares finished the game with plus-four ratings.
The Islanders were credited with 31 hits in the game, the Rangers 18. Jack Hillen led the way with four hits while four different players had three each.