Hockey is a game of redeeming features, or was that baseball?
No matter, Rangers’ winger Kappo Kakko redeemed himself for a mistake earlier in the game when he scored the go ahead goal with 2:47 remaining in the third period as the Rangers beat the Islanders, 5-3 at Madison Square Garden last night in the final regular season meeting of the season.
The Rangers have won 8 of their last 9 and they had to come from behind against an Islanders’ team that had not lost with the lead after two periods and had won the first two games between the hated rivals.
Igor Shesterkin made 15 saves for his 17th win while Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin stopped 29 shots. Coach Gerard Gallant said Sorokin nearly stole the game for the Islanders. “We found a way to win which was fortunate because their goalie played outstanding, hit a lot of posts (two more in this one) and we weren’t burying our chances.”
The game was tied at one early in the second period when Kakko turned the puck over at the Islander blue line. That led to a breakaway by the always dangerous Mathew Barzal who deked Shesterkin and lifted a pretty back hander past the fallen Ranger goaltender for a 2-1 lead. Barzal had a goal and an assist.
Julian Gauthier tied the game at two with his fifth goal of the season. Gauthier, who was a healthy scratch the previous three games, played one of his better games as a Ranger and was the #1 star.
Barclay Goodrow skated on the top line to start the game, but Gallant flipped him to the fourth line and Vitali Kravtsov moved up to play with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin.
“I just thought Goodrow would be better with our match up for that line [Islanders fourth line] than the other guys and once they started playing, I thought [Jonny] Brodzinski’s line was our best line,” Gallant said. They were outstanding they did a great job, every time Goodrow plays with somebody, he makes that line look good.”
The move paid off as Goodrow had a goal and two assists while Gauthier had a goal and an assist. “It’s fun to play [with] Barclay, he always try to find me when I get my speed on the ice. Really good night for us,” Gauthier said after the game.
Later in the second period, the Islanders took the lead for the third time.
Alexander Romanov scored his first of the season to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead after two. It was the 24th goal by an Islanders defenseman, which leads the NHL.
As has been their wont during their best stretch of the season, the Rangers took control in the third period.
Goodrow’s goal tied the game for the third time at the 3:00 minute mark. Gauthier fired a shot towards the net and it caromed off of Goodrow past Sorokin to tie the game at three.
The Islanders had just killed off a Ranger power play late in the third periodwhen K’Andre Miller played the puck in the corner and made a beautiful pass to Kakko who was open in front and he buried the puck to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead. “Tried to play simple in the end, go to the net and good things happen,” Kakko said.
It was Kakko’s ninth goal of the season and his fifth in the last eight games, but it had to feel really good after the miscue in the second period.
“That was my fault. That happens for everyone,” Kakko said. “That’s the way you need to think after that and I think that was good shift before that happened. It was nice to score a goal like that in the end, especially after a play like that.”
Gallant credited the Rangers’ leadership for keeping Kakko focused and not allowing him to get down on himself.
“A couple of guys on our bench I see talking to him and that’s perfect because it comes from leadership,” he said. “You make mistakes, obviously an important game like it was tonight, to give that goal up, it’s tough on a young player but I see Kreider and Goodrow down there talking to him. You’re gonna make mistakes but it’s nice he finished off the right way.”
Vincent Trocheck, who continues to play well, scored on an empty netter to cap off the scoring and give the Rangers a most satisfying win.
“These are our rivals, its always fun to play against them,” Gauthier said. “It was a sold out crowd today, it was fun. Just a lot of energy when we play against them, it was fun to beat them.”
The Islanders took a 1-0 lead in the first period. Anders Lee took a loose puck at the side of the net and spun around and put it in front, but it deflected off of Ryan Lindgren’s skate and into the net.
The Rangers were 1 for 6 with the man advantage but the one power play goal tied the game at one.
Artemi Panarin was set up in the left face off circle and fired a one timer into the net to tie the game with 2:46 remaining in the first period. Panarin took a pass from Zibanejad and beat Sorokin with a blast.
As they head to the break, the Rangers have turned their season around. Gallant feels things are starting to go the Rangers’ way. “We’re getting some puck luck. Even though, we’re still hitting goalposts, we’re getting some puck luck and we didn’t have that the first 20, 25 games of the season.
“We’ve kinda found our game over the last three, four weeks,” Goodrow said.
“Over the winning streak and even in Pittsburgh, you saw a consistent effort for a full 60 minutes from everyone and that’s what we need.”