The New York Islanders swept the season series against the New York Rangers for the first time in franchise history, winning 4-1 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Local bragging rights aside, the win propelled the Islanders into third place in the Metropolitan Division. Both teams have 99 points, but the Islanders currently hold the tiebreaker, as they have a game in hand on their crosstown rivals. With the Pittsburgh Penguins winning on Thursday, home-ice advantage is officially out of the Islanders’ reach and third is as high as they can finish.
“Beating the Rangers is always great,” John Tavares said. “There was a lot of significance with positioning today. But I think we know we didn’t play our best, our goaltender really won us that game today. We capitalized on some chances and [Thomas Greiss] made some huge saves to keep us in the game. We did some good things, but we I think we know we can be a lot better than we were today.”
Greiss was outstanding on Thursday, stopping 36-of-37 shots in the win. He was the far busier goaltender, as the Islanders opted for quality over quantity. They didn’t shoot a lot – managing 23 shots on the evening – but generated more than a handful of AAA chances and, more importantly, finished them.
Casey Cizikas and Frans Nielsen both found soft spots in the Rangers zone and finished a pair of cross-ice feeds for the Islanders’ second and third goals, while Shane Prince deflected a Marek Zidlicky point shot to open the scoring. Tavares rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter.
“We kept it simple in the offensive zone,” Nielsen said. “We tried to make it tough on them. We scored three goals, but the second period was probably their best. Greisser came up big for us.”
The Islanders ability to get open in prime areas agitated the Rangers, but Greiss frustrated them all night. Greiss was sharp early, stopping all 12 shots in the first period, but put his stamp on the game with an enormous right pad save off a J.T. Miller one-timer in the second, preserving the Islanders then 1-0 lead.
It set the stage for a big momentum shift. Prince took the puck down the ice, drove to the net, but threw it back to a trailing Cizikas, who one-timed it past a diving Henrik Lundqvist. The Islanders followed up 1:07 later with a power-play goal, as John Tavares sauced a pass over two Rangers’ stick to Nielsen, who also one-timed it pas Lundqvist.
“He had that huge save right there and then 20 seconds later it’s in their net,” Nielsen said. “Of course that was a game-changer right there.”
Nielsen’s goal – on the Islanders 16th shot – ended Lundqivst’s night, as Antti Raanta came in for the third period.
The goaltending change didn’t stop the Islanders from generating quality chances. Brock Nelson started the third period with a breakaway and Cizikas and Josh Bailey nearly converted on a shorthanded two-on-one midway through the period.
The Rangers eventually got on the board, as Kevin Klein’s shot got through traffic and Greiss with 2:48 to play. There was to be no comeback as Tavares iced it with 32 seconds to play.
After the final horn – and gleeful Yes! Yes! Yes! chants from the remaining Islanders fans – the Islanders did have to come to terms with a disturbing trend. Thursday marked the third straight game the Islanders lost a player to injury, as Anders Lee left the game after the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return.
Lee’s news came after the Islanders announced that Matt Martin – who did not play – has an upper-body injury. Cal Clutterbuck also did not play, missing his second straight game for unknown reasons.
There was some good news on the injury front, as Calvin de Haan returned after missing Tuesday’s game against Washington.
The Islanders now head into the final weekend of the season where they will play back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and Sunday. Puck drop on Saturday is at 7:30 p.m.
Greiss, Cizikas & Prince Postgame