In matching up against the first-place Islanders, the Rangers proved they could compete.
Ding, ding, ding! Round 4 of the Battle of New York goes to the Blueshirts.
The Rangers were calculated in their approach and cautious of their opponents in pulling out a 4-1 win at Nassau Coliseum on Friday night. It marked the Islanders’ second loss in regulation and their first multi-goal loss at home after they had routinely dominated in their arena all season.
To make matters sweeter for the Rangers in the long-running rivalry, the victory extended the team’s win streak on Long Island to five straight games, which dates to Feb. 16, 2015.
Nothing, however, could be more satisfying than challenging one of the most dominant teams in the NHL this season and walking away with two points.
It was destined to be a battle of the goaltenders from the start, considering that each team’s previous three games this season ended with one getting shut out. The Islanders held a 2-1 series record heading into Friday.
Rangers netminder Alexandar Georgiev, who entered the contest with a stellar 6-2 career record against the Islanders, hadn’t seen game action since March 19 as the Rangers rode Igor Shesterkin, with one start for Keith Kinkaid sprinkled in. On the other hand, Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov hadn’t conceded a goal to the Rangers in his two previous starts against them this season, turning aside all 54 shots they’d thrown at him.
On Friday, Georgiev made 31 saves of 32 shots, while Varlamov stopped 32 of the 35 shots he faced.
It looked as if the shutout trend was poised to continue after a scoreless first period. But Alexis Lafreniere ended the Rangers’ scoring drought against Varlamov at 146:05, when he poked the puck in at 6:05 of the second following a scramble in front of the Islanders’ net.
Colin Blackwell then extended his goal streak to a career-high three games less than four minutes later, banging home a feed from Artemi Panarin for the 2-0 score.
The Islanders quickly shifted their focus to screening Georgiev, who carried a career 1.80 goals-against average when facing the Isles. Brock Nelson managed to deflect a shot in from Adam Pelech, but it was waived off for a high stick. That only prompted the Islanders to keep doing what they were doing, and less than a minute later, Andy Greene’s blast from the point found the back of the net through traffic to cut their deficit to 2-1.
The Rangers, however, buckled down in the third period and stuck to what had been working for them all night. That led to K’Andre Miller’s slap shot to regain the two-goal lead before Mika Zibanejad’s empty-net goal put the game out of reach.
Both goalies were on their games from puck drop, but the Rangers tested Varlamov just a little bit more with a 13-7 shot advantage in the first period. The Islanders had their best chance of the first while on the power play, with Zibanejad serving a penalty for boarding Jean-Gabriel Pageau at 10:56.
Nick Leddy’s shot from the point was deflected by Nelson off the crossbar. The Rangers also missed a stellar opportunity to take the lead over that sequence. Zibanejad popped out of the box and took a leading pass for a breakaway before losing control and failing to get a dangerous shot off.