In the last 10 games, the Rangers had scored only nine goals in the third period. So with the Islanders up 1-0 on Jon Sim's goal in the first period last night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers would need a breakthrough on goaltender Dwayne Roloson.
It didn't happen. Instead, Blake Comeau's lightning-quick rebound of Matt Moulson's long shot beat Henrik Lundqvist at 16:50 of the third and gave the Islanders a 2-0 edge. With Lundqvist pulled, Enver Lisin cut the lead in half with 55 seconds left. But the Islanders hung on for the 2-1 victory and sent the Rangers to their fifth consecutive loss.
Aided by a solid defensive effort and a relentless forecheck by his teammates, Roloson made 25 saves and just missed his first shutout of the season. The Islanders, who beat the Rangers, 3-1, on Oct. 28 at Nassau Coliseum, will seek their third straight win over their Atlantic Division rivals in the rematch Thursday in Uniondale.
The Rangers hoped for a fast start against the Islanders, but they fell far short. The Islanders' forechecking was dominant in the first 20 minutes, and the Rangers had problems even completing passes. Their lone shot for almost three-quarters of the period was from the blue line by Lisin. They were outshot 10-3.
Rangers coach John Tortorella was angry after the game. "I have no explanation for how we started," he said. How to avoid it tonight? "Play -- hard."
The Rangers' ice-cold spell continued. In 17 of the last 21 games, the Rangers have scored two goals or fewer. And the Islanders were shutting them down by blocking 16 shots in the first two periods.
It was a series of Rangers misplays that provided the Islanders' goal at 14:25 of the first.
Mark Streit slapped a dump-in from the neutral zone and Sim outraced Wade Redden and reached around him to keep the puck alive. The puck came behind the net where Jack Hillen spun and slid a backhander to the crease where Sim and Redden were tangled. The puck glanced off Redden and past a kneeling Lundqvist with Sim credited for the goal.
With the Islanders ahead 1-0, the first sustained "Fire Sather" chants of the season rose.
In the second, the Rangers' got their first sustained pressure, with Marian Gaborik's shot going through Roloson's legs and the crease behind him. Things boiled over when Roloson gloved a shot as Sean Avery jammed at his pads. Roloson whacked Avery on the leg with his stick and started a scrum.
The Rangers got a power play when Roloson received two minutes more than Avery in penalties. They came up empty and barely averted going down 2-0 when Lundqvist went down in a split and got his left pad out to deny Frans Nielsen's backhand try on a shorthanded breakaway.
Josh Bailey's high stick on Dan Girardi at 18:49 afforded the Rangers a second power play, and another shot attempt by Gaborik was deflected, as the Islanders kept men and sticks on the NHL's leading goal scorer. In 16:42 of the first two periods, Gaborik was credited with three shots, three shots blocked by Islanders and two misses.
"The way we came out, there's no reason for it," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "It's embarrassing. They forechecked us hard, they were in our face. We've got to do better at home. There's no excuse. I think we're scared to make mistakes."