Henrik Lundqvist was a difference-maker again Friday night at Madison Square Garden, making 38 saves, and his teammates rewarded him with three goals late in the third period, as the Rangers beat the Islanders by the score of 4-1. The win was the third straight for the Rangers, who are now 14-5-1 in their last 20 games, and who wore their white Stadium Series jerseys indoors for the first time.
Derick Brassard's goal with 7:46 to play in regulation snapped a 1-1 tie, and Brad Richards followed with a back-breaking goal between Evgeni Nabokov's pads with 5:01 to play as the Rangers beat their rivals from Long Island for the second time in as many games over the past three days, following their 2-1 win at Yankee Stadium Wednesday night. The Rangers finished their regular season series with a winning record of 3-2-0 against the Islanders in 2013-14.
Lundqvist earned his 20th win of the season--the ninth consecutive season he has done so--while surrendering two goals or fewer for the ninth time in his past ten starts. He was sensational all night, in particular when he made 17 saves in the second period.
Marc Staal, who had two assists in the game, made a sweet pass to Brassard at the right post during a delayed penalty call and Brassard made no mistake chipping his ninth goal of the season into the back of the cage for the eventual game-winning goal. Two minutes later Ryan Callahan sprung Richards over the blueline with a head-man pass and Richards wristed one five-hole on Nabokov for his 14th goal.
Ryan McDonagh scored on a long shot into an empty net with one second to play to close out the scoring.
The Rangers came out flying on their home ice Friday, firing five shots on goal within the first minute of the game and recording the first six shots of the contest before the Islanders countered with one of their own nearly three minutes into play. More importantly the Rangers struck for the game's first goal, as well.
Brian Boyle netted his fourth goal of the season--and first in 12 games--3:29 into the first period to provide the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Staal made a pretty play controlling the puck inside the Islanders blueline before blasting a shot towards the net from straight away. Positioned with his back to Nabokov, Boyle deflected the puck into the cage, extending his point-scoring streak to three consecutive games, as the Rangers once again received a lift from the team's fourth line.
At that point the Rangers held an 8-3 shots advantage, but the Islanders responded with a strong rest of the period, though the Rangers still held that 1-0 lead after one period of play. Lundqvist made the save of the night nine minutes into the opening stanza when he did the splits in order to make a sensational right-pad save on a wide-open slam-dunk attempt by the Islanders Josh Bailey, and Nabokov responded six minutes later when he performed a one-two punch of sorts stopping Brassard's tip and then smothering a rebound try by Mats Zuccarello.
After being outshot 14-12 in the first period the Islanders controlled the tempo--and the puck--for much of the second period, peppering Lundqvist with 18 shots on goal. On top of his game, Lundqvist denied one quality scoring chance after another by the Islanders until Kyle Okposo was able to bat a rebound past the Rangers netminder, tying the game at 14:28 of the second.
Okposo's 24th goal of the season came five seconds after the Rangers had killed off a hooking penalty against McDonagh. However defensemen Dan Girardi and Staal were caught on ice the entire kill, and were exhausted as the Islanders continued to control the puck even after McDonagh's return to the ice. That helped free up Okposo who was left alone at the left post to tie the score.
With the score still tied early in the third period the Rangers seized some momentum for themselves with a solid power play. They tested Nabokov with a series of shots--four officially recorded as shots on goal--and came close to untying the contest, but the veteran Islanders goaltender held the visitors in it, and play leveled out once both teams were back at full strength, though the Rangers pulled away at the end, outshooting the Islanders 17-9 over the final 20 minutes of play.
The game grew more testy the longer it went on and remained tied between two teams that were playing one another for the third time in 11 days. First Staal took exception to a post-whistle hit from the Islanders Brock Nelson and responded with a punch to Nelson's jaw, leading to a scuffle and coincidental minor penalties at 9:27 of the third. Then two minutes later it was Chris Kreider and Casey Cizikas going at it and tumbling on top of Nabokov in the Islanders crease before heading to their respective penalty boxes.
Both teams finished the night 0-for-3 on the power play.
The Rangers are off the next three days before returning to action Tuesday night at The Garden when they host the Colorado Avalanche, the start of three games in four nights before the arrival of the Olympic break.