Rangers top Isles, 3-0, and lead conference
As the buzzer sounded to end the second period, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman kneeled on the ice, trying to will away the pain after blocking shots by Travis Hamonic in the closing seconds.
The moment was one of many in the Rangers' 3-0 win over the Islanders Monday night at Madison Square Garden in which the hosts left it all on the ice and did more than the visitors to try to win this game.
No surprise, then, that the Rangers did just that, beating the Islanders for the second time in five nights at the Garden. The Rangers have won five straight to take them to the top of the Eastern Conference with 48 points.
The Islanders, who lost their third in a row, were shut out for the seventh time in 34 games this season and have dropped back to the East basement, 20 points behind their local rivals.
"That's the way you play," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the Rangers. "You sacrifice your body to win games. We've got guys that aren't leaving it out there."
Carl Hagelin's two goals, both coming off Islanders breakdowns and failures to get pucks out of the defensive zone, were more than enough for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist made 28 saves -- including a dozen in the final 9:43 of the second period after the Islanders went the first 10:17 of the period without a shot -- to shut out the Isles for the third time in his last five Garden starts against them.
The Islanders did the little things -- blocking shots, throwing pucks on net, cycling -- in a pair of shootout wins over the Wild and Jets on the road in two difficult places to play. But they seem to have forgotten what brought them success, and sandwiched around a loose loss to the Leafs at home were two games against their chief rivals in which the Rangers showed what to do to get a lead and how to maintain it.
The Rangers are 17-1-1 when scoring the first goal, which came when Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo failed to clear the puck from the Islanders' zone and Michael Del Zotto undressed Frans Nielsen with a move off the left point. Hagelin banked a rebound off Evgeni Nabokov and in 5:14 into the second.
"It shouldn't be this way," Hamonic said. "It should be that we hold ourselves to a standard. We played two good road games, and it filters back to playing simple hockey. It's nothing complicated."
But there were a few culprits in not doing so, Mark Streit (minus-7 the last three games) and Josh Bailey among them.
Hagelin was in the right place at the right time again at 6:32 of the third to deposit another pretty feed from Del Zotto, who was everywhere Monday night and is tied for the team lead with 17 assists.
But that attitude the Rangers have was up and down the lineup. Only four of the 18 skaters weren't credited with at least one of 19 blocked shots, and Dan Girardi, one of the league leaders in that category, was among those without one.
Marian Gaborik's league-leading 22nd goal, into an empty net with 2:28 to play, sealed it.
"I don't want to use the word cocky," said Nabokov, who was sharp and made 28 saves. "But we have to come in with a little swagger. We have to come with the mentality that we're going to win."
It's not there for the Islanders. It is for the Rangers. It's as clear as the Eastern Conference standings, which show two teams as far apart as they can be.