It was bound to be distinctive, considering this was the only Rangers-Islanders game this season at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders' only other home game in the rivalry will be at Yankee Stadium during Super Bowl week. Beyond unique, it was important, too, because of the way each team has begun the season.
Sure, it is only October, but to paraphrase a Yankee Stadium icon, it can get late early around here. It turns out that late was the Rangers' best time Tuesday night.
They overcame a deficit in the third period and overcame the offensive doldrums that have followed them across the country. They had the last word in a 3-2 win.
"It feels good, it feels good for everyone,'' said Benoit Pouliot, who blasted home a shot off a give-and-go with Carl Hagelin with 6:14 left to decide it. "We came in here ready to play and it showed right off the bat. Coming to the Island is not an easy task, but we did the job.''
Here's the job they did: They made a winner of backup goalie Cam Talbot (Henrik Lundqvist sat out the second of back-to-back games), made the most of Hagelin's season debut (coming off shoulder surgery), scored two power-play goals, ruined the Islanders debut of Thomas Vanek and continued the Islanders' trend of blowing late leads.
"It's a perfect game to come back to,'' Hagelin said.
Also, they gave a sellout crowd of 16,170 a good show. It was a show of urgency all around. The Rangers (4-7-0) have been stifled by injuries and the effects of a nine-game trip. The Islanders (4-5-3) have been bothered by a malaise that provoked general manager Garth Snow to trade for Vanek.
The Rangers limited the John Tavares line, including Vanek. "We control the game, we control the play when we have the puck,'' said Pouliot, who set up Derick Brassard's overtime winner in Detroit Saturday.
Ryan McDonagh, who clearly was pumped after his long power-play blast at 4:59 of the third period tied the score at 2, said, "We made them defend quite a bit. They weren't able to make as many plays off the rush as they probably hoped.''
Chris Kreider of the Rangers stole the spotlight from Vanek at 12:30 of the first, maintaining his balance and position in front of Evgeni Nabokov to slide home a power-play goal. The Islanders tied it at 3:40 of the second as Cal Clutterbuck raced down the right side and ripped one to the top right corner. With only 41 seconds left in the second, the Islanders went ahead on a knuckleball goal credited to Peter Regin that floated off Talbot's glove and Dan Girardi's stick.
After that, the theme of the game was either Rangers Resolve or Islanders Redux, depending how you want to look at it.
"This is a very intense building all the time when we play this team. It's an easy game to get up for, a game that obviously is a battle to the very end,'' said McDonagh, whose goal followed an Islanders penalty for having too many men on the ice.
"We fell asleep on that too-many-men call,'' Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
The third period was all too familiar to the home team.
"You just have to do your job out there, work as a five-man unit,'' Andrew MacDonald said. "It's tough to give up another one of these. It's time for us to really shut these kinds of games down.''
No matter which way you looked at it, this game really mattered.