(Note: Visit my Rangers cohort Steve Zipay's blog for the game story)
A gutsy comeback win-turned-rout over their rivals left little room for disappointment, but the loss of Frans Nielsen added an unfortunate footnote to the Islanders’ spirited 6-2 victory over the Rangers Thursday night.
To top off an injury-laden week (and season), the team lost yet another one of their most valuable players after the 26-year-old center left the game when he suffered a frightening head injury on a questionable hit in the first period.
"Any time Frans Nielsen goes down and leaves the game with a head injury, it doesn't sit well with us," Zenon Konopka said.
Nielsen was sent hurtling into the boards with a hefty blow from Marian Gaborik at 16:29. He hit the glass at an awkward angle and slumped forward onto the ice, causing both Radek Martinek and Konopka to jump in and ignite a scrum over their fallen teammate.
"I didn't see the hit, but I just saw [Nielsen] down, not moving, and I got scared," Martinek said. "That's why I went over. He's such a nice guy. I'd do anything for him."
After several minutes down on the ice, Nielsen got up with the help of assistant trainer Nates Goto and headed toward the dressing room, appearing to be dazed. He did not return to the game.
Gaborik escaped without a major penalty and was given only two minutes for roughing and two minutes for boarding. Konopka also received four minutes — for roughing — and both Martinek and Bryan McCabe were assessed two minutes for roughing each.
"I thought that was a hit from behind," linemate Kyle Okposo said. "The ref said [Nielsen] turned his head. It's their judgement call and I don't know if the league will look at it, but we felt it should've been [a major boarding penalty]."
The night before Nielsen scored twice against New Jersey in the third to erase a two-goal deficit. His first goal of the period, his seventh shorthanded this season, tied the franchise record for shorthanded goals in a season set by Bob Bourne 30 years ago.
Nielsen’s exit left the Islanders without their top two penalty killers. Nielsen’s linemate and shorthanded-breakaway artist Michael Grabner missed the game to be with his girlfriend while she gave birth to the couple’s first child.
The Rangers entered the game with an alarming success rate on the man-advantage in the team’s previous five meetings (9-for-20) but had no luck Thursday.
Even without Nielsen and Grabner, who have combined for 12 of the team's league-leading 14 shorthanded goals, the penalty kill thrived. The Islanders killed off all seven Rangers power plays.
Nielsen's injury is only the latest of the Islanders long list of ailments.
In the past week, the Islanders have declared Mark Streit (shoulder), Doug Weight (back) and Andrew MacDonald (hip) done for the season. Defensemen Milan Jurcina (hip) and Bruno Gervais (foot) are also questionable for the remainder of the season and Even the team's head athletic trainer is on crutches. Also, defensemen Ty Wishart (shoulder) and Jack Hillen (upper-body) both left the game with injuries in the third.
Notes & quotes: Free-agent forward Stephane Da Costa signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Ottawa after attracting interest from several NHL teams, including the Islanders and the Rangers. Da Costa, who just finished his sophomore season at Merrimack College, is expected to make his NHL debut against Toronto Saturday.