UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The calendar tell us it's October, but what transpired in front of a capacity crowd at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night certainly felt like a Stanley Cup Playoff game.
Trailing 2-1 heading into the third period, the New York Rangers got a power-play goal from Ryan McDonagh at 4:59 and an even-strength goal from Benoit Pouliot with 6:14 remaining, lifting them to a 3-2 victory against the New York Islanders in what was a raucous atmosphere at the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike.
"It helps to score goals," said Rangers center Derek Stepan, who had two assists. "It's something as a team you build confidence that way. Tonight, we definitely felt we competed for 60 minutes."
Pouliot capped a third-period rally with his second goal of the season at 13:46 of the third. Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek left Pouliot alone in the slot, where he gathered a feed from Carl Hagelin and ripped a wrist shot past Evgeni Nabokov.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano was livid after his team's latest setback. His postgame press conference lasted 85 seconds.
"They're not defensive breakdowns," Capuano said. "We gave up two penalty kills and our defense read a 3-on-3 rush, totally off the charge that we just went over all week long. Our D have to play better, that's the bottom line. We need to win more wall battles as our forwards, but our defense has to find a way to play better. We gave up one goal 5-on-5."
Chris Kreider also scored for the Rangers (4-7-0), who went 2-for-4 on the power play.Cam Talbot, playing after Henrik Lundqvist was in goal for Monday's 2-0 home loss to Montreal, made 22 saves in the victory.
"I saw him receive the puck," said Hagelin, who made his season debut. "He's a big body so I tried to get in behind him and he made a good play. The 'D' kind of fell and Poulie battled through his check and went into the slot. I saw him wide open, pretty easy pass to make and he buried it."
Tuesday marked the lone game between these teams at the Coliseum this season. The Islanders will be considered the home team on Jan. 29, when they'll face the Rangers at Yankee Stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. If Tuesday was any indication, 50,000 people are in for a treat this January.
"Every time we play the New York Islanders, no matter where we play, it's a fun, exciting game for fans to watch," Stepan said. "It's fun to be a part of. It's a good environment. It makes for good hockey."
The Islanders fans in attendance were certainly having fun through the first two periods, only to witness their team lose at the Coliseum for the sixth time in eight home games this season. Cal Clutterbuck and Travis Hamonic scored in the second period for the Islanders (4-5-3), who held a one-goal lead after 40 minutes. Nabokov finished with 21 saves.
"Disappointing thing for me is the things that we go over and the things we talk about, they make the same mistake again," Capuano said.
The Islanders' coach also hinted at potentially promoting a defenseman from Bridgeport in the American Hockey League before Friday night, when the Isles visit the Ottawa Senators.
"Think about recalling a guy and putting him in the lineup, I don't know," Capuano said. "Same mistakes can't happen. We've only got six of them back there."
The Rangers got on the board first on Kreider's power-play goal with 7:30 remaining in the first period. With Kyle Okposo serving a hooking penalty, Brad Richards sent a shot from just inside the right point that went off the sticks of both Andrew MacDonald and Kreider before Nabokov stopped it with his right pad. But Kreider collected the rebound in front of the net, spun around and swatted the puck over the goal line for his first goal of the season.
"Great for our team, and I'm sure great for our team too," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of Kreider, the team's first-round pick (No. 19) from the 2009 NHL Draft. "He's been playing real well, he's been going to the tough areas and he was on the power play, standing in front of the net, screening the goaltender and he jumped on the rebound. He did what he was supposed to do."
After killing another hooking penalty on Okposo early in the second period, the Islanders tied it at 3:40 on Clutterbuck's first goal as an Islander. Clutterbuck, who was acquired at the 2013 NHL Draft in the trade that sent Nino Niederreiter to the Minnesota Wild, beat Marc Staal to a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated into the Rangers' end on a 2-on-1 and fired a wrister from the right circle past Talbot to make it 1-1.
Talbot prevented the Islanders from taking the lead with seven minutes left in the second, when Josh Bailey intercepted a clearing feed just inside the Rangers' blue line, worked his way into the slot and fired a wrister that Talbot calmly denied and covered up.
"That'll give us a lot of confidence moving forward, to battle back from those deficits in the third period, especially when we've been struggling to find the back of the net recently," Talbot said.
An incredibly entertaining second period was capped when the Islanders grabbed the lead at 19:19 on Hamonic's goal originally credited to Peter Regin. With the teams at even strength, MacDonald fired a shot from the point that Talbot swatted away with his right arm, but Hamonic's rebound chance from the left circle went off Talbot's glove and Dan Girardi's hand before dribbling into the net to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead. Regin was involved in the scramble in front, but never appeared to touch the puck.
It was the culmination of an intense second period that reminded everyone in attendance of just how entertaining the Rangers-Islanders rivalry can be.
"I think anytime we play these guys, whether it's here or there, it's pretty electric out there and tonight was no different," MacDonald said. "There's fans from both teams, and New Yorkers are pretty passionate. Obviously, it's one of the great rivalries. I think both sides were feeding off the crowd tonight."
The Rangers tied it via the power play 4:59 into the third period. After the Islanders were caught with too many men on the ice, McDonagh took a pass from Stepan and fired a shot from the point past Nabokov to make it 2-2. It was McDonagh's second goal of the season.
Mats Zuccarello's boarding penalty against Michael Grabner at 8:32 of the third allowed the Islanders to regain the one-goal lead. But they managed only one shot on goal during the man advantage. They finished 0-for-3 on the power play.
"We just need to continue to work hard," MacDonald said. "We have to learn to close those games out. We have to win those special teams in order to be successful. Some nights it bites us and some nights it doesn't. Tonight, it bit us."
The loss spoiled the Islanders debut of left wing Thomas Vanek, who was acquired Sunday from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for left wing Matt Moulson, a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and a second-round selection in 2015. Vanek, who skated on the top line alongside Okposo and John Tavares, had one shot on goal in 19:49 of ice time
"We had some good moments," Vanek said. "We're still trying to feel each other out."
Hagelin made his season debut after missing his team's first 10 games. The speedy forward underwent shoulder surgery after the Rangers were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Rangers center Dominic Moore suffered an upper-body injury in the opening period and did not return.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL