It took more than 65 minutes, but the New York Islanders busted out of their five-game losing streak, overcoming a two-goal deficit to beat the New York Rangers 4-3 in the shootout Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Frans Nielsen and John Tavares came up big in the shootout. Meanwhile, Evgeni Nabokov stymied Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash, adding 36 saves during regulation and overtime as the Islanders improved to 5-7-1.
“It was good to get a win tonight, especially with the intensity out there,” Tavares said. “Obviously the rivalry comes into play in a game like that. It’s nice to dig one out – it was a battle start to finish. To be a successful team, you have to win games like this. We had a tough start but we battled back and played well on the road. It’s a big win. Now we’ve got to bring that back home.”
Dan Girardi’s goal three minutes into the first period gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Carl Hagelin set the play up with a pass from behind the goal line and Girardi’s one-timer went off an Islander on the way in.
Midway through the opening frame, Marian Gaborik’s seventh of the season doubled the Rangers lead. Evgeni Nabokov stopped the original attempt by Brad Richards well as Gaborik’s initial follow-up, but on the third attempt, Gaborik found the back of the net.
The Rangers took the first 10 shots of the game, but the Islanders gathered momentum toward the end of the first period as they closed the shots differential to 11-6 by intermission.
The Islanders completely stole the momentum during the second period.
Colin McDonald’s second goal of the season made the score 2-1 early in the middle frame. Casey Cizikas intercepted the puck deep in the Rangers zone and fed the right wing for a quick shot from just outside the crease 29 seconds in.
“We gave it to them pretty good in the intermission,” Capuano said of the talk in the dressing room. “But it’s not always what you say. I thought we had to shake some things up and that Cizikas, Martin and McDonald really got us going. We double-shifted those guys to start us off. It’s about work ethic and desperation and they had it.”
The Islanders killed back-to-back penalties early in the period including a 30-second 5-on-3 Rangers power play, keeping the puck out of their own zone for the majority of the man disadvantage.
Matt Martin played keep-away against three Rangers during one sequence, and went hard into the boards to chip a puck out on another occasion. Martin led all players with nine hits in 14:49 of ice time.
“As third and fourth line guys especially, it’s important for us to finish all our hits,” Martin said. “Any time we can do that or frustrate their team’s top players, it’s going to benefit us. We’ve been doing a good job of that so far.
“I think our PK put a lot of pressure on them and that was a big reason the momentum turned. That’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in this year, not only just killing the penalty but really trying to use it to build energy and build momentum.”
Twelve seconds after the second minor expired, John Tavares broke into the attacking zone on a 2-on-1 and wristed the puck into the net off Martin Biron’s glove at the 6:45 mark to tie the game. Just 40 seconds later, Brad Boyes gave the Islanders their first lead on a snapped shot from the right side.
Halfway through the second stanza, Hagelin scored on the power play to tie the game at 3-3. The play was reviewed for a possible kicking motion, and because Nabokov’s mask came off during the pile-up. The goal was upheld.
Both teams had chances to net the go-ahead goal in the third period and overtime, but the goaltenders stood tall. Biron slid across his crease to made a save on a Tavares one-timer with five minutes left in the third, and Nabokov kicked his skate out to make one of his 12 third period saves on Gaborik two minutes later following a flurry of chances in the Islanders zone.
After Nabokov stopped Gaborik in the first round of the shootout, Nielsen found the back of the net through Biron’s legs, opting not to go with his usual forehand-backhand deke.
“I played with Marty so he knows my moves,” Nielsen said of the former Islanders goaltender. “I went five-hole. I was hoping he didn’t know what I was going to do in there so I just tried and it worked out. It was a quick shot, and I think I surprised him.”
In the second round, Tavares beat Biron blocker-side, ending the game and giving the Islanders their first victory in their last nine attempts at Madison Square Garden.
The Islanders return to action Saturday, Feb. 16, when the New Jersey Devils make their third and final visit to Nassau Coliseum. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.