Kevin SchultzIt’s sort of becoming commonplace now. Isles get behind early, usually by two goals. And then they find a way to come all the way back and win it, many times in regulation. This was one a bit bigger, a bit more important, than some of the others because it was over the Rangers at the Garden. In regulation. Over a hot Ranger team.
It was an eventful first period and the Islanders tried 2-1 after the first frame including a 2-0 hole early on. The first goal was Rick Nash left alone in the slot and an audible PING as he clanked the puck perfectly off the iron. Nash would add another soon after with a breakaway goal hanging out by the Islanders blueline… Behind two Islanders defenders. It was an up-and-down game with a lot of chances like these for both teams (OK, fast break chances not 1-on-0 chances), and the Rangers cashed them in early on.
But the Islanders did like they’ve done lately and brought themselves all the way back. And, to be quite honest, they played pretty well over the first two periods, which is a bit different than recent deficit games.
Later in the first, Matt Martin took a feed in front of the net and put it top shelf like a goal scorer. It was his best Thomas Vanek impression, even taking the pass from John Tavares. And that was another story of the night; the Islanders first line setting up non-first line forward for beautiful goals.
The next Islanders goal, down 3-1 mid-second period, was a tic-tac-toe from Vanek to Okposo to Thomas Hickey in front of the net. A few minutes later Colin McDonald would find himself in the slot with a rebound that came off a Tavares shot and buried it past the Rangers’ Cam Talbot.
The game headed to the third tied and you knew it would be a good one. Both teams had their chances — especially the Rangers late — but it was a costly mistake from the Rangers bench that tilted the scales. The Rangers took a too many men penalty with about five minutes to go and that would be the difference. The Isles power play, which wasn’t good for much of the night, made a beautiful play to give the team the lead.
Frans Nielsen, at the point, threw a quick pass to John Tavares in the slot who merely deflected it to the front of the net. At that point, Thomas Vanek cut across and easily put it passed the outstretched netminder. On the broadcast, Butch Goring called it a set play and I’d have to believe that, it all worked out so well.
The rest of the way the Rangers held serve for the most part, keeping the puck in the Islanders zone. Kevin Poulin, who made 30 stops on the night, came up big when it mattered most and had some great saves down the stretch. In the end, Dan Girardi would fumble a puck at the blueline and that let Frans Nielsen carry it the length of the ice for the empty netter with less than 10 ticks to go.
Tavares, Vanek and Okposo tallied only one goal on the night but they set up all four of the Islanders non-empty net goals and combined for seven points. Even when they’re not setting each other up, they’re contributing heavily to the Islanders offense. Tonight, the other guys they set up finished the puck quite well. The trio is now 2nd, 7th and 21st in the NHL in points. The only other teams with a trio that high up in the points race are Pittsburgh and San Jose. They are, clearly, elite. Now they need the rest of the team to continue playing well around them.
With a win in Los Angeles, the Blue Jackets kept pace with the Islanders. The Isles are still five points out in the East but are 2-1 in this current stretch of four straight Metro division games. They host Pittsburgh at the Coliseum on Thursday. That game will be a 7:30pm start, as it is on national TV.