Among the many traits the Rangers and Islanders have in common is that there is no way to define what each of them is or predict what they will be this season. Neither is a favorite to win the division but both believe they can advance further in the playoffs than they did this past spring.
One thing became clear right away, though, on Opening Night: The Rangers will not be shut out against the Islanders again. Three goals in the third period at Madison Square Garden gave the Rangers a 5-3 win last night, ensuring that they will not be 0-3-1 against the Islanders, as they were last season.
Chris Kreider is among the reasons the Rangers are hopeful that this season will be different altogether. They think he is ready to break out, the way he broke past the Islanders’ defense on a pass from Pavel Buchnevich to break a 2-2 tie at 9:45 of the third period. He beat Jaroslav Halak, who had won his previous eight starts against Henrik Lundqvist. Brandon Pirri, a first-year Ranger and another reason for optimism, added a power-play goal at 16:11 and J.T. Miller scored into an empty net before Brock Nelson scored for the Islanders.
The Islanders, with several holes to fill and some new additions, also have questions to answer. They had their moments, rallying to tie early in the third period. But it was not their night.
It was the Rangers who got off to a quick start, which is just what they planned.
“We’re a fast team. It was a lot of fun playing tonight,” said Pirri, who assisted on the first goal of the game, by former Islander Michael Grabner, at 13:41 of the first period. “If we’re solid defensively, with the speed and skill we have, it’s going to make it hard on the opponent every night.”
Said Kreider, “You saw a couple of things we struggled with last year that we’re really tuned in and focused on right from the get-go, which I think is a good sign. You saw us playing fast again. We’ve got 81 games to go, but you only have Game One once.”
And you hardly ever start out against the Islanders. It has happened only once before, in 1997, and it ended in a 2-2 tie. That was the score less than four minutes into the third after Nick Leddy and Cal Clutterbuck scored for the Islanders.
The latter came off an interception of a pass from Pavel Buchnevich. No one stopped Buchnevich’s pass to Kreider, though, as the latter sped past Travis Hamonic and beat Halak.
One of the things that has made the rivalry so distinct and familiar is that from the start, each team has had players, coaches and executives who have been on the other team. The day Grabner signed with the Rangers this past summer, his first tweet was this: “Excited to be back in New York once again . . . this time on the other side of the battle.”
The Islanders’ side felt differently from the way it had in all four Rangers games last season.
“I think it’s a big game and that might be a little disappointing for me, just looking that some of the guys that didn’t play with the intensity that we wanted,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “If you can’t get up for this one, it’s tough. I thought it was a good hockey game, I thought both teams played well. They got some breaks when they needed them. We come back, we tie it, then Kreider gets behind us.”
Capuano said there might be changes for the next game. The Rangers were happy with their changes. Pirri, wearing the Broadway Hat that goes to the star of the game, said, “You could feel the vibe in the arena.”
After all these years, that vibe is the one sure thing.