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Dominant third period powers Islanders past Rangers

by Mike G. Morreale

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders certainly have the look of a team determined to become a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference this season.

They made a pretty strong statement Tuesday when they scored five unanswered goals, including two in a span of 30 seconds early in the third period, in a 6-3 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The Islanders, who trailed 2-1 3:50 into the second when Derick Brassard scored his second goal of the season, rallied behind a ferocious forecheck, smart play in the neutral zone and goaltending. Jaroslav Halak, now 8-4-0 in 13 career games against the Rangers, made 20 saves in the second and 40 for the game.

"Resiliency is the word I'd use," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "We weren't good enough for our standard [in] the first [two] periods. The third was a great period."

The Islanders scored four goals on seven shots in the third; Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, Mikhail Grabovski and Nick Leddy scored against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"We were awful in the first two periods," Islanders forward Matt Martin said. "In previous years we would have been blown out. [The] coaching staff talked to us after the second period but players knew it was unacceptable."

Johnny Boychuk and captain John Tavares also scored for the Islanders.

Rangers right wing Rick Nash scored twice to continue his torrid start to the season, and Brassard once in the loss. After opening the season with a 3-2 victory against the St. Louis Blues, the defending Eastern Conference champions have lost three straight while being outscored 17-8.

"I felt like I was playing my game and the third period was not good enough, obviously," Lundqvist said.

Okposo took advantage of a turnover in the Rangers end and scored his first of the season and the 100th of his career, unassisted, to give the Islanders their first lead 48 seconds into the third. Nelson scored his fourth of the season at 4:50 to make it 4-2 before Grabovski's harmless looking wrist shot deflected off Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein and past Lundqvist at 5:20.

Leddy scored on a slap shot that beat Lundqvist at 10:59. Even with the big win, the Islanders know it's too early in the season to be thinking ahead.

"Johnny [Tavares] said it best," Martin said. "We don't want to fall in love with ourselves."

Still, a pat on the back would certainly be acceptable.

The Rangers outshot the Islanders 21-8 in the second but had Brassard's even-strength goal to show for it. Halak was the star of the second, making numerous stops to keep the Islanders within striking distance until Tavares scored from the slot to tie the game at 15:03. Josh Bailey set up the goal when he bumped Rangers defenseman Michael Kostka off the puck behind the net before Nikolay Kulemin collected it and fed Tavares in the slot for his second of the season.

Kostka, who was playing his first game with the Rangers after signing a free agent contract in July, had a rough performance with three turnovers.

"It's tough mentally when we play the way we are playing and it's extremely important that we play smart all over the ice," Lundqvist said. "I lose my structure a little bit when we as a group lose our structure so together we need to regroup and be better. We did so many good things and we let it slip away. We'll have to talk about this, address and correct it."

It marks the fourth time in their history that the Islanders have started a season with three straight victories; they won their first four games in 1976-77 and 2001-02 and their first three in 1987-88.

"What I like about the team [is that] there's a lot of accountability," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We have guys stepping up. I thought [in] the second Halak kept us in the game. It's good, it's what he's paid for."

The Islanders scored five of the six goals playing 5-on-5 against the Rangers. They scored four of their nine goals in back-to-back wins against the Carolina Hurricanes with the man advantage.

"In all fairness, this is the first game we dominated 5-on-5," Capuano said. "I thought we might have to change up lines after the second because our power play had done much of the damage against Carolina in our two victories. But our defense started getting involved and we began to grind it out and that was good to see."

Lundqvist, who was pulled late in the second period after allowing six goals on 24 shots in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, allowed six goals on 27 shots against the Islanders. It marks the first time in his career that Lundqvist has allowed five or more goals in consecutive starts.

"Anytime you are giving up that many goals in the third period at home, after being in a tied game, it's going to be tough for everyone," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "I don't think anyone can sit down and say they played a full 60-minute game. Until we find that, it's going to be tough for us to win games."

The Rangers and Islanders exchanged goals in the first when the latter held a 12-11 edge in shots.

Nash established a team record when he scored an unassisted goal 6:21 into the first. Nash, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy on Sunday night, is the first players in team history to score at least one goal in each of the first four games of the season. Nash has a point in 12 of 18 career games against the Islanders, including eight points (five goals, three assists) in nine games since joining the Rangers in July 2012.

"We're not helping our goaltender out enough," Nash said. "They're getting too many chances from the middle. It's something that we have to sharpen up on."

The Islanders pulled even with a power-play goal at 10:31 when Boychuk fired a slap shot from the right point that beat Lundqvist to the long side with Nelson setting a screen in front. In his first three games of the season, Boychuk has six points (two goals, four assists).


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