Cal Clutterbuck’s goal with 1:28 left in regulation helped lead the Islanders to a 6-4 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Sunday evening. The win pulled the Islanders to within three points of the Rangers in the battle for second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders also have three games in hand on their biggest rivals.
The Islanders came out strong and dominated early. They had the first 10 shots on goal in the game and quickly led 3-0 on tallies by Johnny Boychuk, Brock Nelson and Kyle Okposo which were just 1:55 apart. The Isles were up by three goals before the game was even five minutes old and it would have been worse had not Rangers goalie Antti Raanta, who was starting for the injured Henrik Lundqvist, stopped a few more odd-man rushes for the Islanders. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault called his timeout early in an effort to help his club regroup.
The Rangers did manage to get back into the game and scored a pair of quick goals 38 seconds apart midway through the first period to make it a 3-2 game. Both Oscar Lindberg and Tanner Glass were left unattended near the front of the Islander net and were able to put loose pucks past Jaroslav Halak.
Boychuk extended the Isles lead to 4-2 just 1:20 after Glass’ tally on a hard blast from the point that got past a screened Raanta. It was Boychuk’s first NHL career two-goal game.
The Rangers answered back just 31 seconds later as Eric Staal scored his first goal as a Ranger when he put home the rebound of a shot by Dan Boyle from the slot. After one period, the Isles still led 4-3 and the crowd was tying hard to catch their collective breath. The two rivals had scored seven goals on 23 shots and neither club was playing very good defense.
The pace of the game slowed down a bit in the second period and neither team scored in the middle stanza. The Rangers carried play for most of the period and outshot the Isles 11-7, but Halak and Raanta played well and the score remained 4-3.
The Isles saw their lead evaporate when Derek Brassard scored on the power play at 11:39. Staal was in front of the net screening Halak on the play.
The Islanders kept their cool, however and the fourth line managed to score the game-winner when Clutterbuck tallied after Casey Cizikas won a faceoff in the Rangers zone.
“Casey told me to come off the wall and I tired to find the puck in behind his skates,” Clutterbuck explained. “He won it perfectly on my tape and I tried to shoot it through the crowd.”
“Those guys have come up big for us before,” Isles’ head coach Jack Capuano said when asked why the fourth line was out so late in a tie game with a division rival. “They switched wingers and Clutter got the shot and a good look at it and fortunately it went in the net. That line was good for us again.”
Frans Nielsen’s empty-net goal with 1:01 left on the clock clinched the victory for the Islanders who are now 3-0-0 against the Rangers this season and have clinched the season series between the two teams.
The Islanders were pleased with their ability to keep their composure and earn the regulation win after the Rangers overcame an early 3-0 deficit.
“We know how we need to play,” Okposo explained after the game. “When they tied it up, we just stuck with it. We knew that if we played our game, we would be OK and Clutter stepped up and got a huge goal for us.”
The Islanders completed their season-long seven-game road trip with a 6-1-0 record. They return to action Tuesday night when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Barclays Center at 7:00 pm.
The Rangers lost defenseman Dylan McIlrath to a lower-body injury. He did not return.
The Islanders were without defenseman Calvin de Haan. J.F. Berube dressed as Halak’s backup for the game.
The Islanders are now 24-5-3 when scoring first this season.