Middletown, N. J. – It was everything it was hyped to be. The New York Islanders and New York Rangers battled for 63 minutes at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night with the home team clearly taking over play for long stretches and at times, even dominating action. But the visitors from Manhattan would bend but not break, riding their incredibly hot goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, to a thrilling 1-0 overtime victory.
The story is not all bad for the Islanders even with the loss as I will attempt to explain at the end after the game recap.
The First 20 (You Go First….No, I insist, After You)
The Isles had good jump early as the Frans Nielsen line continued its dominant run of late, working the side boards and corners with dogged effectiveness, penning the Rangers deep in their own territory. Matt Martin was a dominating physical force, collecting 5 hits in the fist period alone, finishing with a game high of 8. Little intricate battles would be fought all over the ice surface this evening, with Kyle Okposo and Rick Nash trading barbs after an offside and captain Ryan Callahan coming in to battle with John Tavares. The testiness would reach a pitch middle of the opening stanza when Colin McDonald laid a perfectly legal clean crushing check on the far boards, flattening Anton Stralman. The referee somehow interpreted this as an elbow but an ensuing scrum in the corner led to Aaron Asham evening everything out in what can only be called an act of good will. He probably realized the call was bogus as well. Rangers bench boss John Tortorella obviously did not agree with his players generous donation and promptly benched him for the rest of the night, shortening his bench in the process.
With a concert the night prior, the ice must have been terrible as pucks were bouncing all over the place and John Tavares spent a good 85% of his shift time on his rear, trying to backcheck his way back into the play rushing up the ice in the opposite direction. Towards the very end of the stanza, Lundqvist would make the first of his many outstanding saves on the night, robbing Matt Moulson on the doorstep by throwing his glove up to deflect a fluttering puck. Overall it was a cautious and tense period with both teams feeling each other out.
Caught In The Middle
To start the middle frame, the Tavares line and John in particular, still looked very much out of sync. I have absolutely no inside information whatsoever but I am puzzled frankly by what could be troubling the Islanders superstar at this moment. Maybe a hidden malady of some sort. Again, I am just guessing, maybe reaching at straws, but looking for some kind of logical explanation. Yes, JT has been getting more closely marked and not getting any assistance from the officials, first on a clear hold by Carl Hagelin then a high stick from Boyle. But he has to rise above that and not take a roughing penalty like he did in retaliation. Jesse Joensuu tried to wrap the puck into the zone hard but someone forgot to tell him which zone, as his defensive zone pass ended up needing a big save by Evgeni Nabokov early. Nabokov would then commit his own turnover is his own zone with Andrew MacDonald, the NHL leader in blocked shots, throwing his body at another one to save a potential opening goal for the hard pressing Rangers. By about the six minute mark, after an impressive penalty kill on a questionable (again?) tripping call on captain Mark Streit, the Isles began to assert themselves and take over play. Michael Grabner had three attempts at the net with the final try squeezing through Lundqvist’s pads but missing the far side by just inches. A failed power play would end with the Rangers all star keeper denying Streit on a blast from the point with a great glove save. For their time on the power play, the Isles would only get that one shot as alot of perimeter passing with no open lanes prevented any quality scoring chances on the Rangers goal. The closest each team would come to scoring in the period would be a deflection by red hot Derek Stepan that clanged iron and Casey Cisikas returning the favor at the other end, beating Lundqvist but not the post.
It would be the metal frame that supports the goal that would deny the Islanders yet again early in the third, Colin McDonald ripping a twisted wrister that beat Lundqvist high over the glove but clanked loud enough for everyone on the Meadowbrook Parkway to hear. After a Matt Carkner holding penalty on Brian Boyle set up another powerless play by the Rangers, a rare error by Ryan McDonogh would lead to a glorious chance for first Brad Boyes then Matt Moulson on the doorstep. Neither would be able to finish. As we passed the midway point, Rick Nash was very lazy getting to a puck in the neutral zone and was overtaken by Tavares, who sped in and fired a snap shot that the Rangers goaltender was able to glove and keep the game scoreless. The Islanders were applying tons of smart pressure, making sure they covered their gaps and backchecking furiously when the Rangers would try to attack. One more power play would come the Isles way and they made the most to waste it. Another failed attempt to take advantage of a rare Rangers penalty. As the period wound down to its final minute, Kyle Okposo challenged Dan Girardi with the puck rolling into the Rangers zone but ended up taking a vicious slash and breaking the Rangers defenseman’s stick into pieces. A clear penalty yes, but with the referees seemingly putting their whistles away, a curious call to say the least at this moment in the hockey game. Inconsistency seems to rule the NHL officiating ranks these days and tonight was no exception to that observation.
The Foxwoods Extra Five?
As the Rangers powerplay to begin the overtime proved once again fruitless, the teams traded rushes up and down the ice in an attempt to find a game winner. Rick Nash, ornery all night, almost ended it at the tail end of that power play with an innocent looking throw at the net that Nabokov fought off and covered just before the Rangers could get at the rebound. After Grabner failed to get a down low 2 on 1 pass through, the Rangers settled down and began a rush from behind their own net that would end in the Islanders making their only mistake of the night. The ensuing rush ended up being a simple looking 3 on 3 and as Derek Brassard crossed the Isles blue line both Thomas Hickey and Josh Bailey decided he was their man. In OT, everything has to be man on man, so there had to be someone open. That someone was Dan Girardi, busting down the right wing. A precise and sublime elevated pass by Brassard and the Rangers D man closed his eyes and shoveled a shot inside the far post past Nabokov. That might sound like a cruel description to Rangers fans but watch it again and you will see what I mean. The Rangers would capture the important second point, one that at this point proves to be much more valuable to them than us.
Roses Are Still Red And Violets Are Still Blue
Alot of Islanders fans are stewing over this loss. Complaining about officiating, posts, etc. but the fact remains that it is not all that bad. I will bullet point why I believe this to be true.
- The Islanders were clearly the better team for long stretches of this game. Anyone who says different were watching Dr.Phil reruns and not this particular hockey game.
- Islanders are 8-1-2 capturing 18 of a possible 22 points over their last 11 games. We have not lost in regulation in 7 games since the 2-0 defeat to the Penguins.
- Gain another point on New Jersey moving 7 clear and with Washington now 4 clear of Winnipeg even in games the Jets would seem to be the only team that can realistically catch the Isles.
- Our postseason fate still rests clearly and firmly in OUR hands. There are six games left in the season for both the Isles and Jets. With our schedule (Florida, Toronto, Winnipeg, Carolina, Philadelphia, Buffalo) you can realistically say the Isles can and should go 3-2-1 at least for 7 points. That gets us to the magic 54. If that scenario was to play out, Winnipeg would have to go 4-0-2 or 5-1-0 in their final six to pick up the 10 points needed to tie the Isles and at least force a tiebreaker between the clubs.
@eyesonislesfs (official twitter account for eyesonisles.com)
@tazman19 (yours truly)
@IliumInc (Rich Diaz)
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Other Facebook Islanders pages that deserve your attention!
Check out Gary Harding’s blog (former Isles booster club VP)