NEW YORK – If you were a New York Rangers fan rooting for them to lose, well then you win. The New York Islanders defeated the Rangers 4-1 and swept the season series by winning all four games; a first time it has ever happened in this historic rivalry.
The Rangers started slowly the past few games have been in question but erased it with a great start tonight at Madison Square Garden. In fact, the first period was fast for both teams. Things looked pretty good for the Rangers.
The consensus seemed to be mixed going into the game tonight for both fan bases. In the game of who would you rather play it was both fan bases agreeing they didn’t want to play the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins in round one. So which team was going to blink first and score? It was the Islanders.
Three second period goals is what did the Rangers in and chased Henrik Lundqvist for the second time in three games. Although, you may not want to use the word chased, maybe more on the line of rest. In a 3-0 game going into the final period there was no need to risk any sort of injury with the playoffs beginning next week and the Rangers ticket already punched.
Despite a 37-shot effort, the Rangers inability to finish is what seemed to irk them in their postgame thoughts. “I thought we had a good start”, said Rangers forward Derek Stepan. “ I thought we had a great second. For a little bit there we let our hair down and they scored three goals on us. Then in the third, we’ve got to learn to play against a trap like that. It’s going to happen a lot now going forward because everyone’s in the playoffs, they get a lead and everyone’s shutting it down. So that’s something that tomorrow we’ll take a look at and communicate about and that’s something that is going to be big for us.”
The message seemed to be the same across the entire room including from head coach Alain Vigneault. “We did play well the first two periods. We had some real good looks, some real good offensive zone time, and we just didn’t finish. That part of the game I didn’t like, but you know what you’re doing to lead up to get those looks was real good. We got unlucky on the first goal, tipped it in our own net. [There was a] bad read on the second goal and they made a great play on their power play to take that 3-0 lead. But we were playing a strong game and we were trying real hard in the third there. That 10-minute span in there wasn’t real good but at the end of the day the process for tonight’s game was good and [we] just didn’t finish.”
This was game 81 of the season. The ticket to the playoffs has already been punched so what could the thought have been going into this game other than don’t get hurt and let’s be ready for the playoffs. The netminder for the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist believes in having good habits. “You try to get good habits. You want to prepare the same way; you want to get ready for a good game. Of course, in the back of your head here you start focusing on next week and what’s ahead. There’s no question about it; you are getting close and you know you are in. “
“But at the same time, you want to make sure you work on your game and try to play as good as you can. For some reason this year they’ve [the Islanders] been better. I have to give it to them. They’ve been playing well. They are really good in the middle of the ice, finding openings, and creating the big chances. That’s why they are a good team. But if we face them again this year we would just have to make sure we change the outcome.”
It seems as if the Rangers may very well be heading down to Florida given the fact that when they take the ice on Saturday for the season finale against the Detroit Red Wings, the Rangers will have nothing to lose but the Red Wings will need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
One thing now also seems for sure, the Rangers start was better now it’s time to put it all together for a complete hockey game if they want to make another deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Mats Zuccarello was this year’s recipient of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award
Three Rangers defensemen have tallied nine goals this season (Dan Boyle, Kevin Klein, and Ryan McDonagh). Three Blueshirts defensemen have registered nine or more goals in the same season for the first time since 1987-88 (James Patrick, Michel Petit, and Norm MacIver).
Derek Stepan recorded an assist and posted a plus-one rating in the contest. Since he returned to the Rangers’ lineup on Dec. 18, Stepan leads the team in points (41). With his assist in tonight’s contest, Stepan extended his point streak to five games (four goals, five assists).