The Islanders relish the chance to beat the Rangers at any time of the year. Friday night brought one of the few late-season games between the rivals that had meaning for both sides, and that made the Islanders' 4-3 shootout win at the Coliseum that much sweeter.
"It's definitely the icing on the cake," said Matt Moulson, whose fourth-round shootout goal past Martin Biron decided the game and kept the Islanders within shouting distance of eighth place in the East. "This was obviously huge for us."
Particularly after blowing a two-goal lead in the second, and after the two ugly losses at the start of the week that nearly knocked the Isles out of the race. They are six points behind eighth-place Florida. The Rangers, despite dropping to 1-2-1 in their last four, expanded their Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference lead to eight points.
This being Islanders-Rangers, there were plenty of twists and turns to get to the shootout. The teams finished overtime playing three-on-three after a couple of violent collisions, and they traded power plays in the final 5:34 of regulation, all to no avail. After a wild opening 40 minutes that featured plenty of open ice and breakdowns, both teams tightened up in the final 25 minutes.
"I don't think we managed the puck as well as we could," said Evgeni Nabokov, who made 33 saves in his first game back after missing four with the flu. "That's what we need to do better in the next games."
The Islanders exploited the Rangers' slow defense for some early chances, and the Rangers converted on their first two power plays and rallied from a two-goal deficit to send the game into the third tied at 3-3.
The Islanders' P.A. Parenteau, who loves playing against his former team, scored twice, the second a power-play backhand from the slot after a pretty feed from Moulson. That made it 3-1 at 8:11 of the second, and the Isles could have seized control less than two minutes later when Michael Grabner sprung free for a breakaway.
Biron stopped Grabner, though, and Marian Gaborik didn't miss his breakaway chance at 11:49, bringing the Rangers within 3-2. At 16:40, Derek Stepan's shot ticked off Andrew MacDonald's stick, Nabokov's blocker, Travis Hamonic's knee and in to tie it.
Both teams came in having suffered from slow starts; the Islanders allowed a goal in the opening 81 seconds in each of their previous two games. But the hosts were the aggressors early, and Hamonic's feed for MacDonald led to John Tavares' spin move behind the net and feed to Moulson, who swept his 26th past Biron at 6:07 to open the scoring.
Nabokov made a sharp stop on Brian Boyle two minutes later; the puck went the other way and Parenteau scored on a slapper at 8:42 for a 2-0 lead. The Rangers' Marc Staal snuck a wrist shot past Nabokov on the power play at 12:47 of the first.
There was plenty of physical play on both sides. Ryan Callahan drilled Hamonic into the boards to draw a penalty late in the third and Kyle Okposo got an elbow into Callahan's face to return the favor with 2:44 to play. Milan Jurcina smeared John Mitchell in OT, and Hamonic again got wiped out by Stepan's hook.
After Frans Nielsen and Gaborik traded shootout goals, neither team scored until Moulson converted in the fourth round. Then Nabokov stopped Mitchell to end it.