Jack Capuano called it a “gut-check” win. Adam Pelech’s freshly-stitched face told the same story.
The Islanders bled and bent, but did not break, mounting a third-period comeback for a 3-1 win over their cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers, on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
“I thought it was a gut-check for our team tonight,” Capuano said. “I thought our team played extremely hard against a good team.”
The Islanders were down 1-0 heading into the third period of an extremely tight game, but Brock Nelson and Nick Leddy scored just over two minutes apart, propelling the Islanders past the Rangers both on the ice and in the standings.
“We were pretty comfortable with where we were, even being down,” Nelson said. “One-goal lead just takes one shot and we were able to get that early. The power-play goal by Leddy gave us even more momentum.”
With the two quick strikes the Islanders grabbed control of the game and didn’t relinquish it, sweeping the home portion of their season series with the Rangers.
“Every time we play these guys it’s special,” said Jaroslav Halak. “The fans get into it right away in warm-ups. It gets you going right away. It’s a big two points. We just need to keep climbing the ladder in the standings.”
Halak, who improved to 5-2-0 in Islanders-Rangers matchups, kept the Islanders in it early, as the game appeared destined to be a goaltending duel. He turned away 34-of-35 shots, including 11 on the penalty kill, as the shorthanded unit was a perfect 3-for-3. Halak had help and his teammates sacrificing their bodies on Rangers rebounds. Pelech epitomized the Islanders sense of sacrifice and resolve, taking a Derek Stepan skate to the face while breaking up a rush, only to get stitched up and later record his first-career point – an assist on Nelson’s 18th – in the third period.
"It feels great,” the rookie defenseman said, referencing the point and not his cut.
Pelech couldn’t have picked a better time to get his milestone point. The rookie defenseman pinched at the blueline to get the puck to Nelson, who snapped a wrister past Henrik Lundqvist at 1:53 of the third. Nelson’s goal was his fourth in his last two games.
Dylan McIlrath took a roughing penalty on Nelson 90 seconds later, sending the Islanders to one of their two power plays. The Islanders made the Rangers pay, as Leddy crept down from the point and snapped a John Tavares pass by Lundqvist at 4:17.
The Islanders came up with a crucial penalty kill shortly after, but once they returned to even strength, held the Rangers at bay. Kyle Okposo iced the game with an empty-netter, solidifying the win.
“It was an awesome game,” Leddy said. “Fast-paced, high-intensity. Those are the games you want to play in.”
Henrik Lundqvist made 29 saves in the loss, while Marc Staal scored the lone Rangers goal, tipping a Kevin Hayes feed past Halak.
The Islanders wrap up their three-game homestand on Sunday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks. Puck drop is at 4 p.m.