NEW YORK – The Islanders wanted to put Tuesday’s ugly loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs behind them, and with the New York Rangers at Barclays on Thursday it presented the perfect opportunity to do so.
What followed was a 4-2 win for the Islanders over their Manhattan foe as well as them pulling back within a point of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders scored four goals in the final 40 minutes to help propel them to the much-needed victory.
“It was huge,” Said Anders Lee, who scored his 22nd goal of the year to tie the game in the second period. “It was embarrassing. Seven goals and 7-1, and we had to have a response. We did that really nice tonight.”
Despite the Rangers current standing, the Islanders have gotten the best of their rivals from Manhattan. The Islanders have won five of their last six games against the Rangers and the Blueshirts have yet to beat the Islanders at Barclays Center since the Islanders moved there in 2015.
Thursday’s showdown in Brooklyn had the feel of a playoff game, not just because of the rivalry, but because of the circumstances the Islanders find themselves in the standings. With 26 games left in the season, every game has become important.
“You see how tight the east is. It’s amazing how much can change in just two, three games,” John Tavares said. “I think there’s no secret the way the year started… We knew the urgency had to be there. It’s just coming to a point now where it made all these games meaningful. As they go they just get more and more important with how tight the standings are and fewer games to play.”
The visiting Rangers were first to score on Thursday night, despite an early push from the Islanders.
The goal came on the Rangers first shot on net of the game and completed an impressive passing sequence. Brady Skjei sent a long pass to Mats Zuccarello, who skated into the Islanders zone and then fired a cross-ice pass to Nick Holden for the goal.
The Islanders tied it up on a beautiful passing sequence of their own.
Scott Mayfield picked up the puck along the boards and flung it to John Tavares in the corner. The Islanders captain then sent a backhand pass to Ryan Strome, who sent the puck to Lee for the goal.
“I was still behind the net, but I saw the play and I was like I need to get out there,” Lee said about the goal. “(Bailey) made a great soft pass and it gave me an opportunity to have an empty net.”
After the Islanders and Rangers traded chances, the Islanders found the back of the net for the second time of the night. Stephen Gionta forced a turnover behind the Rangers net and was able to quickly feed Andrew Ladd in front of the net to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
The Islanders made it 3-1 off a shorthanded-goal from Nikolay Kulemin at 3:03 of the third. The goal came after John Tavares was denied multiple times by Henrik Lundqvist and the Tavares sent the puck to Kulemin in front of the net.
The visitors from Manhattan were able to pull with one 43 seconds later when Jimmy Vesey scored on the power play. The Islanders were incensed by the call, believing that Thomas Greiss had been run over in the net.
Greiss had been knocked over several time prior to that by Ranger players, although all instances appeared to have come from an Islander player pushing the opponent into Greiss. Islanders head coach Doug Weight was visibly upset over the goal call.
“I didn’t agree with the call, I thought it was no goal,” Weight said. “That’s life. (The officials) have a tough job… It’s not a black and white rule. We can disagree and then you have to move on, and win a game.”
The Islanders staved off the Rangers the rest of the way, with Greiss finishing with 25 saves, and Andrew Ladd scored an empty net goal to seal the win with 1:10 left in the game. The two-goal night was Ladd’s 13th and 14th goals of the year.
The Islanders will host the New Jersey Devils this weekend before embarking on a nine game road trip that will take them across the United States and Western Canada. The Islanders record on the road has been, as Doug Weight called it on Thursday, “Crappy.”
And Weight is well aware that it will need to be better if the Islanders expect to stay in the playoff chase.
“We have to be better and it’s a challenge,” Weight said. “We talked about it. Obviously tonight was a huge focus with a home game. Be homers tonight, but we have to be better on the road. You talk about 200 by 85, it’s a rink. But we have to delve into as coaches and we have to challenges these players. I’m going to do some different things on the road.
“I think it’s needed, it’s warranted.”