For an Islanders team struggling to score goals and sliding down the standings in the East Division, there’s probably nothing that could have been a better tonic than a home-and-home set against the archrival Rangers.
In a game that had massive implications for the playoff hopes of both teams, the Islanders schooled the young Rangers on Thursday, getting first-period goals from forwards Leo Komarov and Oliver Wahlstrom and another shutout from goaltender Semyon Varlamov in a relatively easy 4-0 victory that badly damaged the Rangers’ playoff hopes, while perhaps solidifying their own.
"They get the first goal [by Komarov], and when that team gets a lead, they do a really good job,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said. "I know it was early, and it’s only 1-0, but I just didn’t love the ‘feel’ after that. And then they made it 2-0, and they just did everything that they needed to do. They stayed on top of us; they took away time and space, made it difficult for us to get inside and just made it a long night for us.
"They were the better team, clearly.’’
Varlamov posted his third shutout against the Rangers this season, making 25 mostly routine saves.
The shutout was Varlamov’s second straight, following last week’s 1-0 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals, and his sixth overall this season, which leads the league.
"That was a big game tonight I think for both of the teams,’’ Varlamov said. "The Rangers are right behind us. We did an outstanding job defensively. We didn’t give up a lot of chances. We defended our net really well. I like to play in Madison Square Garden. Every time I play here it’s very special for me. There’s a lot of history in this arena."
With Boston’s 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres, the fourth-place Bruins’ lead over the fifth-place Rangers grew to six points in the race for the final playoff spot in the East Division. The Islanders (30-15-5, 65 points) are in third place, and now seven points ahead of the Rangers, who are 26-19-6 (58 points) with five games left in the season.
The two teams meet again on Saturday at Nassau Coliseum in their final meeting of the season and perhaps the Rangers’ final game at the Coliseum, with the Islanders set to move to the new UBS Arena in the fall.
The Rangers played without forward Chris Kreider, who missed the game due to what the Rangers called "maintenance.’’ Kreider fell while skating backward at the very end of the Rangers’ 3-1 win over Buffalo on Tuesday and did not take part in the Rangers’ morning skate Thursday.
Quinn opted to start his No. 1 goaltender, Igor Shesterkin, who was 0-3-1 against the Islanders this season coming in, instead of backup Alexandar Georgiev, who is 7-2 with a 1.70 goals-against average and .944 save percentage against the Isles in his career.
Shesterkin allowed three goals on 26 shots.
"I thought, Shesty played very well tonight,’’ Quinn said, adding he hasn’t thought about whether he will come back with Shesterkin or turn to Georgiev Saturday.
Notes & quotes: Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal (empty-netter) scored the other Islanders goals . . . Rangers D Ryan Lindgren left the game in the third period after he checked Cal Clutterbuck but bounced off and slammed into the side of the glass at the end of the Rangers’ bench . . . Phillip DiGiuseppe took Kreider’s spot in the lineup after sitting out the previous 12 games . . . D Jacob Trouba, who hasn’t played since he suffered an upper-body injury against the Islanders April 20, skated with the team at the morning skate . . . D Adam Fox won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, as voted by the Rangers’ fans.