For two-plus periods Monday, the Islanders and goaltender Semyon Varlamov gave the Rangers nothing at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers and goaltender Igor Shesterkin gave the Islanders the same.
But midway through the third, the Rangers finally made the mistake the Islanders were waiting for, and the Isles punished them for it.
Casey Cizikas scored the game’s first goal at 11:15 of the third period on the rebound of Adam Pelech’s shot after a bad giveaway by Libor Hajek.
On their next shift, the Islanders’ fourth line took advantage of some confusion in the Rangers’ defense and struck again. Matt Martin’s goal at 13:20 gave the visitors a 2-0 victory that ended the Rangers’ winning streak at two games and their point streak at four games.
"We weren’t doing things that allowed us to score goals and win the game,’’ Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. "We did it in spurts, but spurts [aren’t] going to get us the result we want. A couple of mental lapses, pretty closely together, [and] two pucks end up in the back of the net. So that one stings a lot.’’
The win broke the Islanders (5-4-2) out of a tie with the Rangers (4-5-2), Devils and Sabres and lifted them into fourth place — the final playoff position — in the East Division.
Rangers coach David Quinn frequently expresses great respect for the way the Islanders play, talking about their grit and how they give up nothing defensively, play hard hockey and generally do all the right things to win games. But on this night, Quinn was less interested in praising the Islanders and more frustrated by the things his team did not do.
"I didn’t think we played fast enough offensively,’’ he said. "I thought we really allowed them to stay in their structure, which they’re very good at. I thought our power play — obviously, you want to score on the power play, but we also want to gain some momentum off of it. I didn’t think we got much going on our power play [0-for-3].
"You know, it’s 0-0 going into the third, I thought we had some great chances in the third period before they made it 1-0.’’
Quinn, who usually doesn’t mind identifying his starting goaltender the day before a game, chose to keep that decision to himself Sunday. Ultimately, he chose to go with Shesterkin, who had won his last three starts, over Alexandar Georgiev, who has dominated the Islanders in his career.
Shesterkin played well and made 28 saves, but he was beaten by Cizikas after Hajek threw a blind, backhand clearing attempt from the right corner right up the middle. Pelech got the puck and fired a shot that Shesterkin saved, but Cizikas slipped the rebound behind the goalie.
Then, little more than two minutes later, as Cal Clutterbuck centered a puck from out of the right corner, Martin drove the net. No one picked him up and he scored his first goal of the season.
Quinn had a hard time explaining what went wrong on the second goal.
"It was a one-on-four and . . . we just did not play it well,’’ Quinn said. "Clutterbuck’s in the corner, and we vacate the middle and our backchecker stops backchecking . . . I mean, sometimes we had maybe a four-on- two and I think everybody assumed somebody else was going to do something. It just was a poor read. A poor read.’’