Snow Can Stay. For one more day, anyway.
And if the Islanders played the Rangers more often, Garth Snow just might become GM for life.
As fan discontent over Snow’s job performance bubbled over and even reached into the dressing room, the Islanders beat the Rangers for the sixth straight time on Thursday night, 3-0, at Barclays Center.
Jaroslav Halak made 50 saves in his team’s first shutout of the season and Mathew Barzal had three assists as the Islanders continued their domination of the Rangers and improved to 5-0-0 at Barclays against them.
“It’s not the be-all-end-all,” coach Doug Weight said. “But yeah, it feels really good for him. I guess it was the first one of the year. We need to build on that.”
The Islanders (28-25-6, 62 points) are 3-0-0 against the Rangers (27-26-5, 59 points) this season and are 10-1-0 in the last 11 matchups. Halak is 13-1-0 in his last 14 head-to-head battles with Henrik Lundqvist. The Islanders moved within a point of Carolina for the last playoff spot.
Before it began, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault called the matchup “our biggest game of the year so far.” But if not for some superb stops from Lundqvist (32 saves), the final score could have approached the Islanders’ 7-2 victory the last time these teams met.
“You’d think with the number of time that we spent in their end and the number of pucks we threw at their net that one of them would find a way to sneak through,” Vigneault said. “It didn’t. There’s no doubt that their goaltender was on top of his game.”
The Islanders were coming off a 4-1 loss to Columbus that ended with fans chanting “Snow Must Go” and Weight lamenting the lack of oomph in the building. He backtracked the next day, saying he wasn’t criticizing the fans but meant the team didn’t play well enough to get the joint jumping. There were no such worries on Thursday. The sellout crowd of 15,795 was into the action from the get-go.
For one night, at least, fans’ rabble-rousing against Snow took a back seat. It had reached fever pitch when a plan to crowd-source a “Snow Must Go” billboard near Barclays Center raised nearly $6,000 by midday.
The organizers offered to send any overflow donations to a cancer charity supported by Islanders forward Anders Lee, but Lee issued a statement saying he would decline the donations because “I do not feel right accepting money from a movement I don’t agree with.” The billboard organizers later said they will donate any excess funds to the American Cancer Society.
The Islanders took a 1-0 lead at 4:53 of the first. Brady Skjei went off for tripping Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey went top shelf 11 seconds into the power play for his 15th goal.
Barzal got an assist, his 60th point in his 59th game. He became the third Islanders rookie to reach 60 points, joining Bryan Trottier (95 in 1976-77) and Mike Bossy (91 in 1977-78).
Barzal added another assist when Eberle scored his 20th at 15:06 of the second off a sustained mad scramble in front of Lundqvist.
Barzal picked up his ninth point against the Rangers this season when he assisted on Thomas Hickey’s goal at 3:57 of the third. Hickey took a feed from Barzal and flicked it in off Rangers center David Desharnais to give the Isles a 3-0 lead.
Desharnais had a goal overturned by replay three minutes later when it was ruled he kicked the puck in.
“We really tried to throw a lot of pucks at the net,’’ Skjei said. “We needed a few more of those Grade A looks. I think they had a couple more of those right-in-the-slot looks that we didn’t create.”
Said Bailey, “I thought we pushed the pace pretty well for the most part, especially right out of the gate. That’s a good team over there. It’s never going to be an easy game. It was fun . . . We needed this. We were desperate. This was kind of a must-win and I think [Friday at Carolina] is, too. That’s how we have to approach every game.”