NEW YORK – There is always hype anytime the New York Rangers play the New York Islanders. Sunday afternoon lived up to the advanced build up as the Islanders beat the Rangers 6-4 at Madison Square Garden.
Few experts would have predicted that the two rivals would combine for seven goals in the first period, but that’s exactly what happened. The Islanders opened the scoring at 2:50 as Johnny Boychuk got the puck rolling (pun intended). Less than a minute later Brock Nelson made it 2-0 and a 1:10 after that the Islanders made it 3-0 on a goal from Kyle Okposo.
The Blueshirt faithful had barely arrived at their seats and their team was already trailing by three goals. Coach Alain Vigneault took a timeout to try and settle things down especially for starting goaltender Antti Raanta, who was coming off his best game as a Ranger against the Washington Capitals.
The Blueshirts eventually broke through at the 11:16 mark when Oscar Lindberg put one in the back of the net to trim the lead to 3-1. Thirty-eight seconds later Tanner Glass, yes that Tanner Glass pulled the Rangers to within one and the Garden was alive.
Trading goals became a theme in the opening period as the Islanders found themselves back up by two when Boychuk picked up his second goal of the game and made it 4-2, only to be cut down once more on Eric Staal’s first goal as a Ranger.
Staal was pleased to get his first goal as a Rangers but was not pleased with the end result by saying, “Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the first goal (as a Ranger) on a win, but I will take it and we’ll try to rebound there in Buffalo.”
The teams couldn’t replicate the offensive explosion as the first period as the middle 20 went scoreless.
The Rangers buzzed around the Islanders zone throughout the third period, the exact opposite of what we saw the first half of the game. More than halfway through the final frame the Rangers got a powerplay at 11:08. It took 30 seconds for the Rangers’ Derek Brassard to strike and tie the game at four. The Garden was rocking. The Rangers battled their way back after a lackluster start.
The eventual blow came with under two minutes left in regulation when Derek Stepan lost a crucial face-off in the Rangers zone and the puck found Cal Clutterbuck who beat Raanta over the shoulder to net the game-winner. Frans Nielsen would tack on the empty-netter to seal the deal.
When asked about that face-off a frustrated Stepan said, “The night in Washington I’m out there for the last one and I win it back. Tonight I lose it. That’s just the way the game works.”
When asked about game Vigneault said, “We should give them (Islanders) a lot of credit. They came out real strong. On the counter side of that, we didn’t come out the way we needed to. If you are looking at positives, we did come back, but at the end of the night, we had one line going tonight.”
“We got nothing from the other guys. You could tell they were trying, but they didn’t seem to have much in the tank and didn’t generate a lot, other than [Eric] Staal’s line, 5-on-5. The other lines didn’t do much. We lost the draw at the end there.”
You can sense the frustration from the head coach when talking about the effort especially from the Brassard line that just didn’t get the job done, “I think he and his linemates can do better, should do better. We need them to be better obviously. We will analyze this game and make the adjustments we need and get ready for the next one.”
Raanta was almost at a loss for words at the end of the game. “First period was the weirdest hockey period in my hockey life,” he said. “It felt good early, got good saves, and then suddenly five minutes off the clock and the game is 3-0.”
If there is a positive to take away it’s the fact the Rangers came back and battle, although that hasn’t been an issue. The problem was their slow start. With a tough stretch coming up, the Rangers need to address this issue or they will see the Islanders who have three games in hand pass them in the standings.
Eric Staal won a remarkable 20 of 22 face-offs
Dan Boyle recorded his 600th point with an assist
The Rangers posted a single-game season-high 67.2 faceoff win percentage