NEW YORK -- Two nights after beating the New York Islanders outdoors, the New York Rangers didn't make too many changes when they faced off against them indoors. And like their Coors Light Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium, they came away with an important division win.
Brian Boyle opened the scoring for the Rangers (30-23-3), who got an insurance goal from Brad Richards with 5:01 remaining and an empty-netter from Ryan McDonagh with one second left. They are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, four points ahead of the third-place Carolina Hurricanes.
The game featured a lot more scoring chances than their meeting on Wednesday, when the Rangers edged the Islanders 2-1 in the cold at Yankee Stadium. Sporting the same special uniforms they wore in the Bronx, the Rangers executed their game plan against a team they were facing for the third time in five games.
"Other than not needing the long johns, I can't think of any [changes]," coach Alain Vigneault said. "It was a lot of fun outside. I hope we get an opportunity to do it again. Playing inside this building in front of our fans, this is pretty good too."
The Garden crowd erupted when the Rangers took the lead with the teams tied 1-1 and playing 4-on-4. Forward Mats Zuccarello drew a delayed penalty on Cal Clutterbuck, but before the Islanders could touch the puck Brassard fired home a cross-ice pass from Marc Staal to break the tie on his ninth of the season. The assist was Staal's second of the game and highlighted a stretch that has seen him play some of his best hockey all season.
"Since Christmas, coming back off the [concussion] injury, I felt better. I just felt more confident and comfortable on the ice. I've been able to make the plays I am used to making," Staal said. "I think we're comfortable going into the third period like that. We have guys that can make big plays at big times and we were able to do that."
Richards provided one of those plays when he gave the Rangers some breathing room 2:45 later. He took a feed from Ryan Callahan at the blue line, raced in on a partial breakaway and beat Nabokov between the legs from inside the left circle for his 14th of the season. McDonagh found the empty net just before the final buzzer.
The three late goals came after the Islanders dominated the second period, outshooting the Rangers 19-6 and tying the game on Okposo's goal.
The Rangers survived a penalty to McDonagh at 12:23 but were unable to clear the zone after the defenseman returned to the ice and Calvin De Haan's point shot was deflected high by Callahan's stick, catching Lundqvist off-guard. The goaltender got a piece of the shot with his glove but couldn't control the puck, which bounced directly to Okposo at the left side of the crease. He quickly rifled a shot into an open net for his team-high 24th of the season with 5:32 left in the period.
The Islanders managed to even the score in the second, but they went into the second intermission wishing they could have put more past Lundqvist.
"I thought it was frustrating in the second period when Lundqvist made some big saves," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Even in the first period he made a couple of big ones that were the difference. He is a great goaltender, but our goalie made some big saves as well."
Nabokov was tested early. A minute into the game, Rick Nash fought off defenseman Brian Strait curling around the right faceoff dot before firing a shot from the slot. Nabokov was able to stop and smother the puck before a spirited scrum ensued. He then stoned Callahan point-blank from the slot 38 seconds later and wound up stopping a hot Rangers team that registered the game's first six shots in the opening 1:38.
There was little Nabokov could do on Boyle's opening goal. After retrieving the puck at the blue line and drifting toward the middle, Staal fired a hard wrister that Boyle deflected to beat Nabokov high to the glove side at 3:29 for his first goal in 12 games. The play in front of the net was one Boyle admitted he's been practicing for some time.
"Since high school; I always practice those," said Boyle who has his first three-game point streak since April 2012 and has found success lately crashing the opposing net. "I think it's something I had to be proactive on. [Linemate Dominic Moore] has been trying to get pucks to the net. That's where you want to be when he's throwing them there."
Lundqvist kept the Rangers in front with 11 minutes remaining in the first. After skating down the right wing, Frans Nielsen found Josh Bailey all alone streaking down the left side. Lundqvist appeared to be out of the play, but he went post-to-post and stretched out his right pad to stone Bailey at the lip of the crease. It was just one of countless saves that earned the goaltender praise from his coach.
"That's as big as I've seen him come up for us this year," Vigneault said. "He made some unreal saves, permitted us to bring it to the third. Then we played a real solid third period."