Defenseman Dan Girardi found a hole in the Islanders' defense, took a pass from Derick Brassard and snapped a quick shot from the lower right circle past Evgeni Nabokov and into the far corner at 3:11 of OT for a 1-0 victory at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. Girardi, who came into the game with just one goal this season, took advantage of a missed coverage by the Islanders' Josh Bailey to wind up alone.
"I drove to the net," said Girardi, who has 31 goals in seven NHL seasons. "He made a great pass. This says a lot about our team, the character of our team.
"It's a pretty cool feeling when you score that goal," added Girardi, whose only other goal this season came against the Islanders on Feb. 14. "It's a pretty good moment."
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 29 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season and the 44th of his career as the Rangers finished the season series against the Islanders with a 3-0-1 record. Nabokov made 19 saves in the first game between the teams to end regulation without a goal being scored since Dec. 9, 1989.
"Hank was our backbone,'' Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "There were a lot of bodies around him and pucks ricocheting all over the place. He gave us an opportunity and we end up scoring a goal.''
The single point keeps the Islanders in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings with 47 points, one more than the Rangers, who have a game in hand. The ninth-place Winnipeg Jets have 44 points and have also played one more game than the Rangers.
“We played a good game,” Nabokov said after the Islanders improved to 8-1-2 in their past 11 games. “We should be proud of the way we played. We didn’t get the results we wanted, but it’s hockey; this stuff happens. A little bounce here, a little bounce there – none of them went our way. We hit the post, but that’s a part of the game. I think it was a great game. Some fans want a four-five goal game, but I’d rather have this type of atmosphere."
It was arguably the biggest game between the teams since 1993, when a late-season overtime win by the Islanders essentially knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs and put the Islanders in. The sold-out Nassau Coliseum was rocking all night.
Brassard's first exposure to the Rangers-Islanders rivalry since being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets last week left him shaking his head.
"I've never played in a game like that before," he said. "It was unreal."
Tortorella, whose team is now 5-1-1 in its past seven games, was relieved to head back to the city with the extra point -- though he declined to call the Rangers-Islanders battles a "rivalry" -- at least not by his standards.
"We need a good old-fashioned playoff series. That's when you create rivalries," he said. "Tonight's game brings a different intensity because we are close together in points. I don't buy the rivalry."
There were 18 shots, 19 hits but no penalties or goals in the first period. The Islanders had 10 of the shots and came up with the best opportunity late in the period when Matt Moulson was alone in the slot. But Moulson didn't get all of his shot, and Lundqvist gloved the knuckling puck and held on.
The Rangers dominated the first half of the second period, but Nabokov came up big at 2:35 when he got his right pad down to deny Darroll Powe's rebound try. The Rangers nearly scored three minutes later when Derek Stepan was able to deflect Ryan Callahan's power-play shot from the right circle through Nabokov's pads, but the puck hit the post and stayed out.
The latter stages of the period belonged to the Islanders, who had a near-miss of their own near the 17-minute mark when Casey Cizikas picked up a rebound in the lower left circle and beat Lundqvist, but hit the inside of the far post. Lundqvist also got his pad down to deny Thomas Hickey, then made his best stop of the period with two minutes left when he stopped Kyle Okposo's blast from the slot after the Rangers' defensive coverage broke down.
The Islanders came close again 1:45 into the third period when Colin McDonald's shot from the right circle beat Lundqvist but plinked off the crossbar. They had another chance after killing off the Rangers' third power play when Ryan McDonagh turned over the puck in his own zone, but Lundqvist stopped John Tavares and Brad Boyes in a five-second span. Lundqvist also used his catching glove to stop Tavares' rocket from the right circle 7:30 into the period.
Okposo gave the Rangers a late power play when he was called for slashing at the 19-minute mark, but the Islanders killed the first minute to get into overtime and negated the second minute while playing 3-on-4.
Material from team media was used in this report.