NEW YORK -- After going 31 games and 11 weeks without scoring a goal, New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner was long overdue for a breakout night. It came Friday, when his team needed it most.
Grabner scored his first two goals since opening night and Thomas Vanek had the tie-breaking goal early in the third period to give the Islanders a 5-3 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Grabner, who hadn't scored since getting a pair against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 4 before getting a shorthanded goal in the first period, hit the empty net with 51 seconds left to give the Islanders (10-19-7) their first regulation victory since Nov. 12.
"It's been the longest [drought] of my career and it's nice to end it," Grabner said. "At the same time, I've got to go back to work tomorrow and try to do it again."
Cal Clutterbuck and Grabner scored shorthanded goals in the first period and Brian Strait scored in the second. Evgeni Nabokov made 21 saves.
Derek Stepan, Derek Dorsett and Benoit Pouliot scored for the Rangers (16-18-2), who fell to 1-4-2 on a nine-game homestand. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 15 shots.
With Chris Kreider and Dan Girardi off for interference, Vanek put the Islanders ahead when he tipped Kyle Okposo's point shot past Lundqvist 78 seconds into the final period, breaking a 3-3 tie. Vanek's 11th of the season was one of five special-teams goals in the game.
Two of those special-teams goals were generated by the Rangers' power play. But with the game on the line, that unit came up short.
"I think we've got to work harder. We've got to be better on special teams and the power play," Rangers forward Rick Nash said. "We've got to work on our opportunities, especially when you get that many power plays. You've got to be better."
The Rangers had a chance to tie the game moments after Vanek's goal when Ryan Strome was called for hooking at 3:31 with the teams playing 4-on-4. But they mustered a single shot during a 4-on-3 advantage that lasted 1:25. The Islanders killed off a late boarding minor to Josh Bailey that expired one second before Grabner scored his empty-netter.
"The penalty kill came up big when it had to and I thought Nabby did a great job for us," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "I have the utmost confidence in the guys."
The Islanders' tying goal didn't come on the power play, but it was close. Six seconds after Anton Stralman finished serving a hooking penalty, Bailey found Strait at the right point. Lundqvist got a piece of the defenseman's slap shot, but not enough, as the puck skipped into the net for Strait's first NHL goal.
The Islanders' penalty kill came up big late after having its ups and downs in the first two periods.
The game was tied 2-2 early in the second period when Grabner almost got his second shorthanded goal of the night 12 seconds after Clutterbuck was called for cross-checking at 6:40. Grabner sped down the middle and beat Dan Girardi to the inside before deking to his left and lifting the puck over a sprawling Lundqvist. But the puck hit the crossbar, and the Rangers took the lead 66 seconds later on the power play.
Mats Zuccarello's centering pass from the right corner skipped off Nash's stick right to Stepan at the side of the net. Nabokov slid across the crease but could not get over in time to stop Stepan, who gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead with his seventh of the season at 7:58.
"It's a tough break. But I think the best part about it was that we didn't give up," Grabner said. "Maybe 10 games ago we would have got down on ourselves and let them dictate the play. But we just went right back at them and played our game."
The goal came after the Rangers had come back from a two-goal deficit for the third straight game. Three minutes into the second, Dominic Moore fed Dorsett, who fired a hard shot by the side boards. With Brian Boyle providing a screen, Nabokov was beaten to his right on Dorsett's third of the season to tie the game 2-2.
The Islanders' penalty-killers secured the game late and did the damage early as they raced out to a 2-0 first-period lead.
Clutterbuck was awarded a penalty shot at 14:42 when he broke free toward the Rangers net and was hooked by Ryan McDonagh. Clutterbuck skated in and beat Lundqvist to the glove side for his fourth of the season.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault disputed the call to award the penalty shot, but Clutterbuck had no doubt.
"I was going to take a shot and I got hooked," Clutterbuck said. "That's usually a penalty shot on the breakaway."
With Matt Carkner off for holding, Grabner stole the puck from McDonagh at the Islanders' blue line and raced in alone. He deked to his forehand and beat Lundqvist at 17:09 for another shorthanded goal.
"I was thinking five-hole first," Grabner said. "But I looked up and he was pretty far out. Usually he's a little bit deeper. So I tried to make a move and hold on to the puck."
The Rangers comeback began 30 seconds later when Pouliot took a feed in the slot from Kreider and beat Nabokov to cut the lead to 2-1. All three first-period goals came within a 2:57 span.
It marked the second straight game in which the Islanders blew a 2-0 lead. Tuesday night, they held a two-goal lead with less than three minutes left in regulation only to lose 3-2 in the shootout to the Tampa Bay Lighting.
"We don't think about that. You can watch games every single night and teams have 3-0 or 4-1 leads and don't get the win," Capuano said. "We just have to play the way we play. I don't worry about the score. I always tell the guys their work ethic will dictate the scoreboard. That's what our focus must be."