The importance of the Islanders 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on Thursday meant more than bragging rights from Manhattan to Montauk.
The Islanders needed the pair of points to keep pace in a tightening Eastern Conference Wild Card and couldn't afford to lose two straight games in regulation. The importance was not lost on Isles, who followed John Tavares' blue-collar effort and outworked the Rangers, finishing the night one point out of the final playoff spot.
"I don't think there was any question that we'd respond in this room in the right way," said Andrew Ladd, who potted a pair of goals in the win. "From top to bottom we were solid."
Tavares had a pair of assists on Thursday, and was often the hungriest player on the ice. He set up Nikolay Kulemin's shorthanded game-winner, buzzing around the net, pickpocketing Henrik Lundqvist's attempt to cover the puck before backhanding a feed to an open Kulemin. At one point during the play, Tavares was surrounded by four white Rangers jerseys.
Video: NYR@NYI: Tavares, Kulemin connect for SHG
"To say that was a relentless shift by those two would be an understatement," Interim Coach Doug Weight said. "It's leadership. It really is. It's not being denied and it was big."
It held up as the winner, but not before the Rangers made a comeback. Jimmy Vesey scored for the Rangers on the same penalty kill, setting up a thrilling third period. Thomas Greiss (25 saves) came up big down the stretch for the Islanders, stopping Chris Kreider on a one-timer in tight with two minutes to play. Ladd sealed it with an empty-netter and the Islanders preserved their perfect record against the Rangers in Brooklyn.
"The shorthanded goal was big," said Anders Lee, who put the Islanders on the board in the second period. "It changed the momentum."
Video: NYR@NYI: Lee caps off pretty passing sequence
Thursday had all the makings of a typical Islanders-Rangers game, which was closely contested on the ice and in the stands. The Rangers opened the scoring in the first period, turning an Islanders' miscue into a Nick Holden goal off a two-on-one rush.
The Islanders answered 2:43 to start the second period, as Lee circled the net and emerged in time to take a Josh Bailey feed and with Lundqvist down at his mercy, buried his 22nd goal of the season.
Ladd gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead shortly after, as Stephen Gionta knocked Marc Staal off the puck behind the net and fed Ladd for his first of the night at 6:24.
Video: NYR@NYI: Gionta steals puck, sets up Ladd in the slot
The Rangers best chance to get back in the game came at the start of the third, as the Islanders were in the early stages of killing off a Bailey double-minor, but Kulemin's shorthanded goal nullified the advantage.
"All of these games are pretty much playoff games for us," Lee said. "It's keeping that excitement in the room and we're in a position where we're chasing down teams and it's a fun one to be in, especially where we began the season."
The Islanders now have a back-to-back, home-and-home set with the New Jersey Devils this weekend starting Saturday night in Newark. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.