How could Isles have wanted it more?
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
The Rangers have thrived in adverse environments through much of this season. That could come in handy in the final four games, because they've put themselves in a very adverse situation.
The Islanders' entire season has featured plenty of adversity, more than one team rightly deserves. From the 1-17-3 streak to more than 500 man-games lost to injury to feeling like second-class citizens in every game, there has been a chance to take shots at this team often.
Thursday night was no different, as the "home" side faced a Nassau Coliseum crowd of predominantly Rangers blue, lost team MVP Frans Nielsen to a possible concussion in the first period and lost their cool for a time after Marian Gaborik escaped with only a minor for boarding Nielsen's head into the dasher.
But the talk at this time of year is about desperation. About who wants that playoff spot most. The Islanders, eliminated six days ago, hustled to more pucks. They hustled to Rangers shooters. They hustled, period, in a game that meant nothing to them and that they won, 6-2.
The Rangers did a lot of standing around: On six fruitless power plays in the first 26:08 of the game with a 1-0 lead, in their own zone and, finally, on the bench after John Tortorella called time out after PA Parenteau gave the Islanders a 4-1 lead with 5:16 left in the second.
No one spoke during that 30-second break. The Rangers, after a season of outworking and outhustling opponents with more talent, have stopped moving at just the wrong time.
"They were beating us to pucks. They were more aggressive in front of our net," said Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled after the second. "We have to talk about this tomorrow . . . It's very disappointing to see how we played in the second."
The Rangers still are in the top eight in the East. They still have the advantage over the ninth-place Hurricanes, who are three points back with a game in hand. Carolina, which comes to the Coliseum Saturday night, still has the Sabres, Lightning and Red Wings on the calendar. The Rangers hold their playoff fate in their hands, even if finishing higher than eighth seems more and more remote.
There was more talk from the visitors' room Thursday night about the Islanders playing loose and free, the stuff that started back when Terry Murray and the Kings were here six weeks ago. And yes, these Islanders have nothing left to play for except themselves and their jobs, which still seems like a lot.
But they were without their two best penalty-killers, Michael Grabner (off to be present for the birth of his first child) and Nielsen (after his injury). The Islanders had Ty Wishart and Dylan Reese and Mark Katic on defense, at least until Wishart went down with a shoulder injury.
If that group can play harder than a Rangers team that's prided itself on playing that way, then the difference is not who was playing without a care in the world, as Murray said of these Islanders. It's about what the Rangers could not do against a decimated team. "We're not working hard enough to get any bounces," Ryan Callahan said.
So now it's the Rangers, with five goals in four games and losses in two straight, who have created a very tough final week for themselves. It begins Sunday in Philadelphia. The Bruins visit the Garden on Monday. But the Thrashers and Devils games at home to close the season next week will be just as big.
The Islanders won't be going anywhere once the regular season ends. The Rangers didn't go anywhere Thursday night, except closer to the edge.