The New York Islanders got a pair of goals by Andrew Ladd and a key shorthanded goal by Nikolay Kulemin to defeat the New York Rangers 4-2 at Barclays Center Thursday night. The Isles needed to bounce back after Tuesday’s embarrassing 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Maple Leafs and tonight’s strong performance showcased the team’s resilience.
“The guys’ second and third effort was awesome and their response was awesome,” interim head coach Doug Weight said after the game when asked about his team’s ability to bounce back.
Like most games in this rivalry, this contest was a tough battle, but the Islanders got solid goaltending from Thomas Greiss (25 saves) and a determined effort throughout the lineup to play better team defense and be more difficult to play against.
One move Weight made that paid off was inserting veteran forward Stephen Gionta into the lineup. The former Devil acted as a spark plug early and was credited with three hits in the first period alone despite seeing only 3:30 of ice time. Gionta finished the game with five hits, an assist and a plus-one rating.
“These are Rangers games,” Gionta said. “You live in this area and you know the importance of these games. It doesn’t matter what time of the season, they’re playoff-type games. I’m just trying to set the tone early. We stuck with our game and came out on top.”
While the Isles set a much more defensive tone early, it was the Rangers who scored the only goal in a tight-checking first period. Calvin de Haan fell down and allowed Nick Holden to get open on the left side. Mats Zuccarello made a patient pass to set the play up and the Rangers led 1-0 6:23 into the game just after the Islanders second power-play chance of the game expired.
Both teams played strong defense in the opening period and the Islanders outshot the Rangers 7-5. Neither team was able to create many quality scoring chances.
The Islanders bounced back and took control of the tempo of the contest early in the second period. Josh Bailey showed great vision and calm when he made a pinpoint cross-ice pass that set up Anders Lee for an easy tap in to tie the game at 2:43. The goal was Lee’s team-leading 22nd of the season.
Then, Andrew Ladd cashed in on a play set up by Gionta’s hustle behind the net. Gionta centered the puck to Ladd who beat Henrik Lundqvist to give the Isles their first lead of the game at 6:24 of the middle stanza.
The Rangers had some more quality chances later in the period, but the Greiss stopped all 11 shots by the visitors including a pair of power-play chances that saw the Blueshirts try to make too many pretty passes on the choppy Barclays Center ice.
The momentum of the game changed early in the third period with the Isles still clinging to their 2-1 lead. The Rangers had 3:51 of power-play time after Josh Bailey was given a 4:00 double minor for high sticking in the closing seconds of the second period.
The Islanders had a strong penalty kill that kept the Rangers on the perimeter and then scored a key shorthanded goal at 3:03 that extended their lead to 3-1. John Tavares made an aggressive forecheck and caused a turnover behind the Rangers goal. He centered the puck to Nikolay Kulemin who beat Lundqvist from the slot.
“Johnny made a great play and tried to kill some time,” Kulemin said. “He created pressure down in the zone and he found me in front and I found the top of the net. It was a turning point for us. It was a long penalty kill and everybody bought in and did the right things and we got a goal out of it.”
The goal became even more important when the Rangers scored with six seconds left on Bailey’s double minor. Jimmy Vesey scored from in close to pull the Rangers back to within a goal with 16:14 left in the third period.
Weight asked for a review of the goal, claiming that Rick Nash had interfered with Greiss on the play. The replay showed that defenseman Johnny Boychuk knocked Nash into the area and the goal was allowed.
While Weight was clearly angry on the Islanders bench, the team maintained their composure and kept the Rangers from putting together too many quality chances over the rest of the game. Greiss rarely had to deal with rebounds or too much traffic in front of the net. He was able to turn aside all of the Rangers remaining chances.
Ladd added an empty-net goal with 1:10 left on the clock to seal the victory for the Islanders.
“This was a huge win, especially after the last game,” Greiss said. “At home, you want to get those points and we’ve been playing well at home. It was a big game for us.”
The Islanders return to action Saturday when they play the first of a home-and-home series with the New Jersey Devils. Saturday’s game will be in Newark while Sunday the two teams meet in Brooklyn. The Islanders need to continue to play well as they battle for the final wild card in the tightening Eastern Conference playoff race.
The game was a sellout with attendance announced at 15,795.
Scott Mayfield replaced an injured Adam Pelech and had a strong game. Mayfield was credited with three blocked shots and was singled out for praise for his all-around performance by Weight after the game.
The Islanders outhit the Rangers 31-18. Gionta and Jason Chimera led the way with five hits each while three players were credited with four apiece.
The Islanders won 60 percent of the faceoffs in the game led by Brock Nelson (7-of-10) and Alan Quine (5-of-7).
The Rangers have never won at Barclays Center and are now 0-4-0 in Brooklyn. The two rivals meet one more time this season on March 22 at Madison Square Garden.