The only difference between the Islanders and Rangers Tuesday night was a Rick Nash pass that ended up in the Islanders net early in the third period.
So now the only difference between the two rivals is a single point separating them at the top of the Metropolitan Division standings.
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The Rangers' 2-1 win at the Coliseum -- the final regular-season meeting between the two teams in the old barn -- was the sort of tight, physical game that both teams will face in the postseason.See alsoLatest NHL playoff pictureSee alsoIsles vs. Rangers: Who's better where?
Particularly if they face one another.
"If we do see them again, it's going to be similar," Matt Martin said. "We've got a lot of similarities. It's always fun to play in this building against them."
Less fun after Nash's pass attempt from the Islanders' blue line into the slot caromed off Ryan Strome's skate and behind Jaroslav Halak at 2:50 of the third.
The Islanders had a long stretch to pull even, a length of the third period that included two power plays, but the home side could muster only two shots on four missed power-play opportunities in the game.
Kyle Okposo's return after missing 22 games following eye surgery displayed some rust, especially when Okposo rejoined the top power-play unit. The Isles gave up more shots to the Rangers' penalty killers, three, than they mustered on Cam Talbot with the man advantage.
"The power play let us down and that starts with me," said John Tavares, who had just one shot on goal in a pointless night. "You need it in a tight game like that."
"It's not the fact we didn't score [on the power play], it's the fact we didn't shoot any pucks," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "That's disappointing to me."
Talbot had to make only seven saves in the third period, with the Isles' best chance of the period coming on Casey Cizikas' drive to the net. The puck deflected up and over the crossbar with about seven minutes to go.
Anders Lee put the Islanders ahead with his 23rd of the season at 9:35 off a strong first period for the Isles, stuffing a puck through Talbot's pads. Even coming off an overtime win in Toronto the night before, the Islanders were the better team through 20 minutes -- the same way they had controlled the opening periods of the previous four meetings between the teams.
But the Islanders gave the lead back midway through the second. Kevin Hayes shrugged off Thomas Hickey on a break-in, spun and whipped a shot past Halak to send it to the third even. There were plenty of big hits -- Martin drilled Mats Zuccarello into the side boards in the second to bring the divided sellout crowd alive -- and the game had that postseason snarl to it heading to the final period.
Nash's accidental goal was the only difference.
"It was going to the corner and suddenly it ends up in the net," Halak said. "It's a lucky bounce. We just couldn't get any bounces our way."
The Islanders exhale a bit with two days until their next game, having played a league-high 69.
The Rangers, with four games in hand and only a point back, headed to Washington immediately after Tuesday night's game for a date with the Capitals Wednesday night.
"It was a heck of a week for us, but there's still a lot of hockey left," Tavares said. "Tonight was disappointing but it's time to regroup."