The New York Islanders played a great hockey game…for 40 minutes. Unfortunately, an NHL game lasts at least 60 minutes and the Rangers swarmed past the Isles to win the game 6-5. Kevin Klein netted the game-winner for the Rangers with 4:32 left in the game. Ryan McDonagh scored twice for the Rangers while Derek Stepan scored a goal and had two assists. Ryan Strome scored twice for the Islanders.
This is a game that lived up to the hype. The fans were chanting 20 minutes before the start of the game and the closely divided sellout crowd of 16,170 got to enjoy a highly entertaining and wide-open game between two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The two rivals combined for 11 goals on 85 shots in a contest that featured some pinpoint passing, great scoring chances and some shaky goaltending by both sides.
“We should have come away with a win tonight, there’s no doubt about that,” Isles’ forward Josh Bailey admitted. “I think that’s the frustrating thing. But we’ll treat this just like any other game, we’ll talk about it and we’ll move on and get ready for tomorrow night.”
John Tavares started the festivities off scoring just 11 seconds into the game. Rangers goalie Cam Talbot tried to clear the puck from behind his own goal but put it right on Tavares’ stick and the Isles’ captain deposited the puck into the abandoned net to make it 1-0 Isles.
The Isles jumped to a 2-0 lead midway through the opening period when Frans Nielsen put home the rebound of a shot from the point by Travis Hamonic for his 11th goal of the season. The Isles’ fans in the crowd were going wild as their team took 22 shots in the first period and had plenty of chances to blow the game wide open. The best came when Casey Cizikas had a breakaway but Talbot got his toe on the puck and kept his team alive.
McDonagh’s first goal of the night with 5:25 left in the first period got the Rangers on the board and quieted the Isles’ fans in the crowd. Still, the Isles outshot the Rangers 22-11 in the first 20 minutes and used their speed and forecheck to control the tempo for most of the opening stanza.
After Johnny Boychuk scored just 1:20 into the second period to make it 3-1 Isles, the Rangers evened the score with goals by Chris Kreider and McDonagh just 23 seconds apart.
Ryan Strome scored at the 7:41 mark of the second period and again 3:43 into the third and the Isles had a 5-3 lead at home.
But the Islanders stopped skating in the third and were completely dominated by the road team. After two periods, the Isles held a 37-24 advantage in shots on goal. In the final 20 minutes, the Rangers had 18 shots while the Isles managed just six.
“It seems we got the fifth goal and they kind of turned it on,” Strome said. “I just think we stopped playing. In the first period we had over 20 shots, in the second period we almost had 40. We had to come out and do the same thing and get pucks behind their defense and we didn’t do that. When we don’t manage the puck properly, things happen.”
The Islanders also had difficulty clearing their zone. They coughed up the puck too often and allowed the Rangers to keep the puck in the attack zone for extended periods of time.
Islanders fans started to chant “You can’t beat us,” at the Rangers with the score 5-3 Isles and 13:30 left in the game. Unfortunately, they started the chant a bit too early in the game.
Shortly after the chant, Stepan made it a one goal game at 6:25. The slumping Martin St. Louis tied the game at 8:02 of the period off a pretty feed by Stepan. Klein netted the game-winner with 4:32 left on the clock off a cross-ice pass from St. Louis and the Rangers had their first and only lead of the game.
The Islanders had a few chances to tie the score and force overtime. The best came in the closing seconds after the Isles finally managed to pull Jaroslav Halak for a sixth attacker but Josh Bailey hit the post and the Rangers escaped with a 6-5 victory.
“We just have to play harder for a whole 60 minutes,” Tavares said. “They’re a good team, but we just have to do a better job defending the middle of the ice.”
The loss ended the Isles four-game win streak and was the first time the Isles lost this season to their rivals from the city in four games.
The Rangers are now just two points behind the first-place Islanders in the Metropolitan Division standings with 73 points and the Rangers have two games in hand.
The Islanders return to action tomorrow night when they travel to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes. The game gets under way at 7 pm ET.
Lee Stempniak of the Rangers picked up his 200th career assist in the game.
Isles defenseman Nick Leddy left the game in the second period after suffering a cut to his face. He returned later in the period wearing a full face shield.
All 11 goals scored in this game came at even strength.
The Islanders will host the Rangers for the final time at the Nassau Coliseum (barring a playoff meeting betwen the rivals) on March 10.