The tension was building as the bitter New York rivals had not met for over two months. It culminated in one of the most exciting games of the season, Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The result was a 4-3 shootout victory by the Islanders over the Rangers with Jeff Tambellini tallying the game-deciding goal in the sixth round.
"That's something you go to bed and hope to wake up to," said Tambellini, when asked how it felt to play such a large role in the win. "You can't ask for anything better than this. Guys had been going low and Henrik fills up the bottom of the net so well. He had his glove down the whole way, so that was where I was looking and I got it to go in."
Wade Dubielewicz was outstanding in his second start in as many games, stopping 27 of 30 shots, plus five of six in the shootout to earn his sixth win of the season. He improved to a perfect 4-0 in NHL shootouts, having allowed only two goals on 14 shots.
"Wade did the same thing he did last year for us," said head coach Ted Nolan. "It was a big win for us and he delivered. He didn't rattle under the pressure. I'm a strong believer in the harder you work, the luckier you become and we worked hard."
The Islanders got goals from Blake Comeau, Sean Bergenheim and Trent Hunter to break a two-game losing streak. The Rangers out-shot the Islanders 30-18 in the game and climbed back from a 3-1 lead to get the Garden crowd buzzing in the third. But it was the Islanders who picked up the extra point in the shootout.
The Islanders weathered an early storm that saw the Rangers fire seven of the game's first eight shots. But it was the Islanders that struck first. With just 1:17 remaining in the opening period, Comeau's pass from behind the Rangers' net caromed off Michal Rozsival's skate and under Henrik Lundqvist, who made 15 saves in the game.
The Rangers evened the score at one on a power play goal by Nigel Dawes at 2:29 of the second period.
But the Islanders countered quickly with two goals in the span of 2:00 to take a 3-1 lead. First Bergenheim had his screened shot sail past Lundqvist at 3:10 of the second period. Miroslav Satan and Bryan Berard picked up the assists. Then Ruslan Fedotenko's shot from the side boards was deflected by Hunter and trickled over the goal line. Josef Vasicek also earned an assist on Hunter's tenth tally of the season.
As the saying goes, "a two- goal lead is the worst lead in hockey." It was never truer tonight.
The fourth goal of the second period came 4:14 later off the stick of Chris Drury, whose slapshot found a seam through a mass of players to cut the Islanders' lead to 3-2.
No goals were scored in the final 15 minutes of the second period thanks in large part to the play of Dubielewicz. His best series of saves came against Brendan Shanahan, who broke in all alone. Dubielewicz stopped the initial shot and then had to recover and slide to his left with his pad backwards on the ground to block Shanahan's stuff attempt.
"I think the fact that we were able to make a little run last year gave us some confidence," said Dubielewicz, who last played on January 31 before making the past two starts. "It allows you to have a sense of confidence going into a game like this. I thought we played a pretty smart game. I haven't felt that intensity for a month."
The physical play also picked up with a personal battle between Brendan Witt and Sean Avery boiling over to matching roughing minors. The teams combined for 71 hits, with 41 credited to the Islanders.
The Rangers finished their comeback with a shorthanded tally by Ryan Callahan at 5:47 of the third period.
After trading chances in the third period and overtime, the game moved into a shootout. Bill Guerin and Nigel Dawes scored in the opening rounds. Dubielewicz shut the door on Shanahan, Scott Gomez, Brandon Dubinsky, Rozsival and Martin Straka. Tambellini beat Lundqvist with a high wrist shot to the glove side to secure the victory for the Islanders.
The home-and-home series moves back to the Nassau Coliseum with the Islanders only three points back of eighth place Philadelphia. With limited seats available for Thursday's game, you'll want to order your tickets now.
Click here to purchase tickets to Thursday's 7 pm Islanders-Rangers matchup at the Coliseum.
Five Stars of the Game:
1. Wade Dubielewicz: Back-to-back clutch performances, has stopped 56 of 60 shots in the past two games 2. Jeff Tambellini: Besides tallying the game-winner, led the team with 5 hits as Ted showed confidence in Tambellini's line, putting them out late in the third 3. Scott Gomez: Two assists, including the set-up on the shorthanded tally 4. Trent Hunter: Played a physical game with 4 hits, goal 5. Brendan Witt: A physical presence all game, 4 hits, 22:49 TOI
Stat of the Game: Head Coach Ted Nolan spread out his playing time tonight. Every Islanders had at least ten minutes of ice time.
Slapshots: The Islanders are 10-2-2 in their past 14 games against the Rangers...The Islanders improved to 4-2 in shootouts this season…Wade Dubielewicz won his second shootout against the Rangers in his career, allowing only one goal on nine shots...The Islanders are 19-13-4 when they are out-shot…The Islanders have an NHL high 22 wins in one-goal games (22-15)...Rick DiPietrois expected to re-join the team for tomorrow's practice.
11 Andy Hilbert - 89 Mike Comrie - 13 Bill Guerin
26 Ruslan Fedotenko - 63 Josef Vasicek – 7 Trent Hunter
20 Sean Bergenheim – 10 Richard Park – 81 Miroslav Satan
15 Jeff Tambellini – 72 Jeremy Colliton – 57 Blake Comeau
Goaltenders 30 Henrik Lundqvist
40 Stephen Valiquette
8 Marek Malik - 3 Michal Rozsival
18 Marc Staal - 55 Christian Backman
5 Daniel Girardi - 51 Fedor Tyutin
68 Jaromir Jagr - 17 Brandon Dubinsky - 16 Sean Avery
82 Martin Straka - 23 Chris Drury - 24 Ryan Callahan
10 Nigel Dawes - 19 Scott Gomez - 14 Brendan Shanahan
20 Fredrik Sjostrom - 15 Blair Betts - 25 Petr Prucha
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