It’s a cliche, but with these two archrivals, you really can throw the records out when they get together.
The Islanders were 15 points ahead of the Rangers in the East Division standings coming into Friday night, and they almost never lose at home. But the Rangers have a secret weapon in rarely used backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who is positively kryptonite to the Islanders.
Still smarting after a humbling loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins 24 hours earlier, the Rangers entered Nassau Coliseum for the first time this season on Friday with Georgiev in net, playing his first game in three weeks.
He was sharp in making 31 saves and the Blueshirts got goals from Alexis Lafreniere, Colin Blackwell, K’Andre Miller and Mika Zibanejad, whose empty-netter capped a 4-1 victory.
"I haven’t played for a while and I just tried to enjoy the game,’’ said Georgiev, who last played March 19 in a 2-1 loss to the Capitals in Washington.
"I felt confident coming into it and just [tried to] do my job, same as usual. And we played really well. Great hockey from the start. It felt like a playoff kind of game. It was really fun to take part in that one.’’
The Rangers (19-16-5) pulled to within five points of the idle Boston Bruins (21-10-6), who currently hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division and have played three fewer games. The Islanders (26-11-4) fell back into a first-place tie with the Capitals, who beat Buffalo, 4-3.
"This team’s had a hell of a year,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said of the Islanders. "Obviously, they’re making a big push. They they make a big deal [trading for Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac on Wednesday], and they’ve got a really good team.
"And listen, it’s the Islanders-Rangers. And a lot doesn’t matter when the Rangers and the Islanders play. It’s a rivalry game, and we needed this one.’’
After starting Igor Shesterkin for five straight games, Quinn turned to Georgiev on Friday on the second night of the back-to-back. Georgiev came in with a 6-2 record, a 1.80 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage against the Islanders. Now he’s 7-2.
The Rangers are 7-5 against the Islanders in the last three seasons, beginning with Georgiev’s first full year in the league in 2018-19. In the three seasons before that, they were 1-9-2 against them.
"I really don’t have an answer to that,’’ Georgiev said when asked about his mastery of the Islanders. "I know that the league keeps track of that, but . . . I just come to play hockey. It’s fun to play in the big rivalry games.’’
The Rangers began to take control of the action in the second half of the opening period and took the lead in the second, when Lafreniere jammed in a loose puck off a goal-mouth scramble at 6:05. Blackwell’s third goal in three games and 12th overall made it 2-0 at 10:01.
The Islanders thought they were on the board at 14:07 of the period, but Brock Nelson was ruled to have deflected the puck in with a high stick, so the apparent goal was waved off after a short video review.
Less than a minute later, at 14:53, defenseman Andy Greene fired a shot through a crowd that got by Georgiev for Greene’s first goal of the season.
Miller, who leads all rookie defensemen in goals with four, scored at 11:48 of the third to put the Rangers ahead 3-1.
Zibanejad ended the drama when he lifted a soft clearing attempt over everyone and into the empty net at 18:48 for his 14th goal.