Perhaps this is what the Islanders needed: A wild one at the Garden, a crazy game with the rival Rangers to get them out of their two-month funk.
That decidedly was not what the struggling Rangers needed. In a strangely officiated game, the Islanders gave up a two-goal lead, surged back from a one-goal deficit and killed off two late Rangers power plays to grab a 5-3 win Friday night.
It was the Isles' first regulation victory since Nov. 12, a span of 16 games (2-10-4, with two shootout wins). The Rangers dropped to 1-4-2 on this nine-game homestand.
"I think you could really see we've learned from some of the stuff we've gone through," said Cal Clutterbuck, who scored a shorthanded penalty-shot goal at 14:42 of the first, by far the strangest of the calls by referees Marc Joannette and Frederic L'Ecuyer. Clutterbuck did not even possess the puck before he was cleanly stick-checked by Ryan McDonagh, the last man back, but the penalty shot was awarded and Clutterbuck beat Henrik Lundqvist through the pads.
Michael Grabner scored a shorthanded goal just 2:27 later after chipping the puck off McDonagh's stick, getting Lundqvist to go down and beating him. It was Grabner's first goal since opening night, a 32-game span for him.
"I think I forgot what that feels like," he said. "I didn't know how to celebrate."
But the Islanders gave up the lead fairly quickly. The Rangers scored three straight goals, beginning with Benoit Pouliot's power-play goal late in the first. Then Derek Dorsett's toss hit Thomas Hickey in the shoulder and went in behind Evgeni Nabokov for a 2-2 game three minutes into the second, and Derek Stepan pounced on a puck at 7:58 of the second for another Rangers power-play goal.
"You feel like maybe you're going to come out on top there when you get that lead," Brad Richards said. "It's tough right now to look at anything positive."
That's because the Isles didn't need much time to bounce back. Brian Strait's one-timer skipped past Lundqvist and tied the score headed to the third.
Once there, special teams made the difference. The Islanders got a 42-second two-man advantage early in the period and Thomas Vanek tipped Kyle Okposo's shot between Lundqvist's pads for a 4-3 Isles lead.
The Rangers got two power plays in the final 6:22 of the third, including one on Josh Bailey's boarding call with 2:52 to go. While killing that, and with the Rangers' net empty, Andrew MacDonald and Grabner both went to play a puck in the corner -- and both of their sticks broke. That bad feeling crept back in. "It was like, 'Oh my God,' " MacDonald said. " 'How could this happen?' "
But Frans Nielsen whipped the puck out of the zone and right to Grabner as he received a new stick from the bench. His empty-netter with 51 seconds left iced the game.
"When you outwork teams, you'll find the bounces going your way," the Rangers' Rick Nash said after a quiet night. "When you get outworked, that's when they seem to go against you."
"We got the lead, they got it, we battled back and we got some big kills there at the end," MacDonald said. "It was up and down, but we found a way to win one."
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