There was no doubt in the players’ minds that the Islanders would put forth a more determined effort Thursday night, at home against the Rangers, than they did in Tuesday night’s drubbing in Toronto.
There was more bite to this one, too. Jason Chimera delivered a few extra post-whistle shoves. The usually unflappable Thomas Greiss chased after the officials after a bump from Rick Nash as the Rangers pulled within a goal in the third period. And Doug Weight spit fire from the bench when that goal was upheld after a very brief review.
“You see the emotion from the guys. That’s what happens when everyone is buying in,” said Nikolay Kulemin, whose shorthanded goal just before Jimmy Vesey’s power-play goal proved to be the winner in the Islanders’ 4-2 victory. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to in Toronto and everybody was ready from this morning, when [Weight] talked to us, right to game time. It’s a good thing.”
The effort showed in all four goals. Scott Mayfield, who played for the first time in two weeks, started the play that led to Anders Lee’s tying goal early in the second period. Stephen Gionta, a little ball of energy, undid Marc Staal and set up the first of Andrew Ladd’s two goals.
John Tavares, who did yeoman’s work killing penalties, shrugged off three Rangers to feed Kulemin for a huge goal to make it 3-1 at 3:03 of the third.
“To say that was relentless by those two is an understatement,” Weight said. “It was leadership.”
Weight admitted he lost his cool after the brief review to confirm Vesey’s goal — Nash appeared to get his stick into Greiss’ midsection well before Johnny Boychuk shoved Nash — and said it could have taken the Islanders in a bad direction after their lead was cut to 3-2 with more than 16 minutes left.
“It’s OK to be emotional. If you are, you are,” said Weight, who has tried hard to be himself in his head-coaching stint, during which the Isles are 9-3-2. “I didn’t agree with that call. I still don’t. I watched it three times just now. But then you move on and you’ve got to win a hockey game.”
And with the Rangers coming at them in waves, Weight continued to send all four lines and all three defense pairs over the boards.
“From top to bottom, we were solid,” said Ladd, who is tied with Chimera for third on the team with 14 goals. “It’s one of our big strengths, that we’re able to play four lines and three ‘D’ pairs. We’ve really been a better team of late, one that brings a lot of pace when we do that.”
The Islanders moved back within a point of the Maple Leafs for the final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference. That’s big, but perhaps not as big as erasing the ugliness of Tuesday night’s 7-1 loss with a full effort.
“If you don’t have a deep effort against the Rangers, you’re not going to beat them,” Weight said. “They’re too good. Hopefully, what we did proves to them we’re a pretty damn good team, too.”