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Islanders continue mastery of rival Rangers with 4-1 win

Rangers left wing Chris Kreider gets caught between

Rangers left wing Chris Kreider gets caught between Islanders defenseman Brian Strait and Islanders center Mikhail Grabovski during a fight in the third period. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

There aren't any real statement games for the Islanders, not after the start they've had to this season.

But Tuesday night, after an eight-day layoff that included surgery and a two-month absence for Kyle Okposo, the Islanders needed to come out and declare they could still be the same team they were before the All-Star break despite losing one of their best players. Particularly against the rival Rangers, particularly in a sold-out Coliseum after a blizzard on Long Island.

Mission accomplished, in a sense.

The Islanders were not at their best against the Rangers, but were forceful enough in the first period and strong enough in their own end for the next two periods to come away with a 4-1 win over their rivals, the third time in three meetings the Isles have beaten the Rangers.

"We did a lot of the dirty work tonight," said John Tavares, who scored during a five-on-three power play to make it 4-0 with 3:13 to play. "Creating opportunities, scoring goals, blocking shots. It's a good way to start things off [after the break]."

Jaroslav Halak, fresh off his All-Star Game appearance in Columbus over the weekend, was the biggest reason why the Isles continued their stranglehold over both the Rangers and the Metro Division, where the Islanders are now 16-2-0 this season.

Halak made 40 saves and came within 8.1 seconds of his second shutout of the Rangers in two weeks. His 18 saves in the second period, when the Rangers began to flip the ice a bit, were a key.

"They dominated a lot of the play tonight, to be honest," Jack Capuano said of the Rangers, who needed Carl Hagelin's goal in the closing seconds to snap their scoring drought against the Isles. "Our goalie made some terrific saves for us."

And there were timely goals in all three periods against Henrik Lundqvist (34 saves), who entered having won his previous four starts at the Coliseum while allowing only four goals in those wins.

Mikhail Grabovski took Okposo's spot in the lineup and on the first line with Tavares and Josh Bailey and Grabovski made the most of his time there.

Johnny Boychuk broke up a Rangers rush and started one the other way in the final minutes of the first period. Tavares carried the puck over the Rangers line, dropped it for Bailey and then took Dan Girardi out wide, leaving open space for Grabovski in front to tap in Bailey's pass and open the scoring.

Matt Martin and his fourth line chipped in just 4:11 into the second, with Martin collecting a loose puck off the skate of Cal Clutterbuck to beat a helpless Lundqvist and open a 2-0 lead after two periods, thanks in large part to Halak.

Ryan Strome opened it to 3-0 at 6:12 of the third when his attempted pass for Frans Nielsen on a rush deflected off Ryan McDonagh's stick and past Lundqvist. Frustration set in for the Rangers down the stretch and Tavares' goal, during a five-on-three, cemented things.

"Our system matches well against them," Strome said. "When we use our speed, when we're physical, we know we can play against anyone. It's always fun to get up for these games. We're 3-0 against them and that's a lot of points in our division."

It wasn't particularly to the coach's liking, but for a first game back off a long layoff -- and without one of their best players -- they will take what they got Tuesday night.

"All in all, I thought everyone chipped in," Bailey said. "It's what we need to win games."

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