NEW YORK, N.Y. (Dec. 22, 2011) – Leading 3-1 with 11-plus minutes left in regulation, the New York Rangers allowed a late power-play marker to the New York Islanders’ Matt Moulson, cutting the deficit to one. But, the Blueshirts managed to pull out a 4-2 victory against their hated Atlantic Division rivals on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. As a result, the Rangers picked up their third-straight win, improving to a record of 20-8-4 on the year. Meanwhile, the Isles saw their two-game win streak end, falling to 11-15-6 overall.
Following a slow start to the first period, the action picked up halfway through, commencing with an astonishing pad save by Rangers’ netminder Martin Biron. On a 2-on-1 rush, Michael Grabner one-timed a shot toward the right-side netting, but Biron came up big to make the save. Minutes later, he deflected another tough shot off the return by Mike Mottau at the point. However, it was a name that Blueshirts’ faithful laud that has not seen the back of the net in a while to give the Rangers the early 1-0 cushion with 5:07 remaining.
“That save set it up for me,” stated Biron about the one-timer by Grabner. “I saw the puck come across, and made the save. You have to have the confidence to stay on your feet. Just have to be patient. That has always been my game.” Biron then discussed the overall play of the team. “We have been battling adversity. The guys have responded very well, and everyone is getting their share.”
Following up on Biron’s showing, Head Coach John Tortorella said: “You have to give Marty credit. He is not a back-up (7-1 record in nine appearances). He made a lot of good saves tonight. Realize it is not about giving Hank (Lundqvist) rest. They are a 1/1A type tandem.”
Brandon Dubinsky, who hadn’t scored since October 31 against San Jose, skated into the circle and fired the puck into the top-left corner netting for the tally, warranting the echoes from the Garden crowd. Just before the period ended, Ryan McDonagh skated off for a holding penalty. Despite killing the opening 35 seconds of the penalty, the hosts would pay for it during the second stanza. Overall, the Isles had a 10-7 clip in shots in the period, and a 13-6 advantage in faceoffs. Biron made 10 saves through one. Nabokov had seven stops.
“It feels great. It feels like it did the first time (against San Jose),” stated Dubinsky, about his second goal of the season. “I want to contribute more…It’s about getting shots. I am going to keep playing hard.
Former Ranger P.A. Parenteau scored just 18 seconds into the second period off of a rebound shot from the point by Mark Streit. Streit’s shot rebounded off of Biron’s right pad, and Parenteau tapped it in. Derek Stepan looked to quickly re-capture its one-goal advantage only seconds later, but his shot from point-blank range was knocked aside by Islanders’ goalie Evgeni Nabokov. It would only be the Rangers leading goal-scorer, Marian Gaborik, who would put his team back ahead by one with some great help from teammate Artem Anisimov.
From the faceoff circle, Anisimov won it straight ahead, and sent a cross-pass for an open Gaborik, who netted his team- and NHL-leading 20th tally of the season. His 20 goals tie him with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews. Later in the stanza, Michael Del Zotto gave the hosts some insurance. With 4:35 remaining, Michael Del Zotto raced up to a loose puck at the top of the circle, and subsequently ripped it past Nabokov for a 3-1 lead, which the Blueshirts took with them into the break.
“I skated in and took a whack at it,” replied Del Zotto about the eventual game-winner. “It seemed as if no one saw the puck but me.” When asked about his recent play, the defenseman stated: “We have had injuries and coach (Tortorella) is rewarding me with ice time. I am just looking to get my swagger back.”
Brandon Prust and Anton Stralman were tabbed with assists on the play. Yet again, the second stanza was the period of choice for the Rangers, as they have outscored their opposition 38-22 coming into the contest. The Islanders and Blueshirts each attempted eight shots apiece in the stanza. The visitors also held a 22-14 clip in hits, a 23-17 advantage from the faceoff dot, and a 7-5 edge in takeaways. The Rangers were favored 11-9 in blocked shots. Biron accounted for 17 stops through two periods of action. Nabokov sported 12 saves.
During the third period, the Rangers came out of the gate conservative, sending the puck in deep, showing a solid forecheck, and making the Isles skate the full length of the ice. That changed though when Matt Moulson made it a one-goal game with 11:31 left. After two players were put in the box for each team, the Rangers’ Stu Bickel was nabbed with an additional two minutes for roughing Tim Wallace. Like the earlier goal, Streit fired a shot from the point that gave off a rebound. Moulson then found twine, and trimmed the deficit to just 3-2.
But, that was as close as the Islanders came to a comeback, as John Mitchell scored the empty-netter off of a miscue at center ice by the visitors with 1:33 remaining. For the contest, the Isles owned a 26-25 margin in the shot department, a 32-22 clip in hits, an 8-7 edge in takeaways, and a 16-14 advantage in blocked shots. The Rangers benefited in the faceoff dot by a 35-28 count. In net, Biron recorded 24 saves. Nabokov had 21 stops.
“We had the right type of confidence tonight. We need to work on a number of things, but we are pushing one another,” Tortorella said. “The guys are helping each other in the right spot.” As for the overall effort in tonight’s game against the Islanders: “I thought we played well. It would have been nice to score on the power play. We wanted to generate more offense, but did a pretty good job.”
Tortorella and the Rangers return to the Garden ice tomorrow night (Dec. 22) when they play the back end of a home-and-home against the Philadelphia Flyers in their final tune-up before the Winter Classic. This year, the Blueshirts have posted a 3-0-1 mark in the latter contest of back-to-back sets. As for the Isles, they are also in action tomorrow, hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The puck drops for both games at 7 p.m.