Blowing some recent leads finally caught up with the New York Islanders on Monday night.
Less than 14 minutes from completing a perfect four-game homestand at the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders (37-19-1) lost a third two-goal lead to the New York Rangers (34-16-5), and eventually the game as well, 6-5, marking the first time the Rangers beat the Islanders in four tries this season and the Islanders’ first home loss in a dozen games against Metropolitan Division opponents this year.
With the win, the Rangers (73 points) moved into a second-place tie with Pittsburgh, just two points behind the Islanders, with two games in hand.
The Islanders had gotten away with squandering advantages in each of the first three games of their homestand, to push their home record to 20-6-0.
They beat Edmonton, 3-2, after coughing up a 2-1 lead on Feb. 10. Against Toronto, two nights later, the Islanders jumped out to a 2-0 lead and were tied before winning again, 3-2. And on Saturday night, the Islanders blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 before dominating the third period, to win 6-3.
However, each of those victories came against sub-.500 teams. And although the Islanders had previously beaten the Rangers by three goals in each of the team’s prior three meetings, the likely playoff-bound Rangers had already started its four-game road trip with three consecutive wins on the same nights the Islanders started their homestand with three wins. Beating the Islanders not only ended that road swing with nothing but Rangers victories, it also gave the Rangers the second-best road record (17-9-1) in the NHL, narrowly behind Eastern Conference-leading Montreal (17-8-1).
While Islanders head coach Jack Capuano repeatedly talked about his team’s resilience in pulling out wins after coughing up leads, it was the Rangers who showed a great ability to bounce back and win by a single goal against an Islanders team that is the NHL’s best (22-5-1) in one-goal games.
Once again on the homestand, the Islanders started fast and found a way to take control even after losing the lead.
Center John Tavares took advantage of a careless play by goaltender Cam Talbot (5-1-1 while filling in for injured goaltender Henrik Lundqvist) to score the game’s first goal in an unattended net, just 11 seconds after the opening faceoff (the Islanders’ fastest goal to start a game in 21 years).
Fellow center Frans Nielsen extended the Islanders’ lead to 2-0 less than 12 minutes into the game, and the home team was clearly having the better of the play, with a 20-7 shot advantage late in the first period.
However, defenseman Ryan McDonagh cut the Rangers’ deficit in half when he beat goaltender Jaroslav Halak (31-12-0), who failed to tie former great Billy Smith (32-9-4 in 1981-82) for the team-record in goaltending wins.
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk pushed the Islanders’ lead to 3-1, just 1:20 into the second period, but the Rangers tied the game just 2:20 later, when left winger Chris Kreider and McDonagh (with the help of a fortunate deflection off of the stick of Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky) scored a mere 23 seconds apart.
As they had earlier in the homestand, the Islanders didn’t dwell over losing earlier leads.
Instead, center Ryan Strome scored the next two goals, the first, with 12:19 left in the second period, and the next, 3:43 into the final frame, to put the Islanders up, 5-3.
At that point, it seemed as though the Islanders would continue their mastery over the Rangers and the Metropolitan Division (against whom the Islanders fell to 18-3) and maintain their success at home.
But the gritty Rangers battled back with goals from center Derek Stepan and right winger Martin St. Louis only 1:37 apart, to tie the game, 5-5, with 13:35 left.
Less than 7½ minutes later, after a shot by St. Louis was blocked in front, defenseman Kevin Klein scored with 4:32 left, to give the Rangers an improbable comeback win.
The teams’ final regular season meeting will be back at the Coliseum on Mar. 10.
For now, the Rangers will look for their fifth straight win, when they host Vancouver on Thursday night, to begin a stretch of playing four of their next five games at home.
Before the Islanders have another four-game homestand, they’ll play two of their next three contests on the road, starting Tuesday night in Carolina.