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game recap

Islanders top Rangers, finish first season sweep

Three-goal second period backs 36 saves by Greiss

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders completed their first regular-season series sweep of the New York Rangers with a 4-1 victory at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

Thomas Greiss made 36 saves for the Islanders (45-26-9), who went 4-0-0 against their archrival. They had never swept the Rangers (45-27-9) since entering the NHL in 1972.

"It's definitely fun beating those guys," said center Casey Cizikas, who scored the game-winning goal. "It's a tough game every single time we play them. It's fast, it's gritty and it's everything hockey is about. It's fun playing them, and getting the two points makes it even more exciting."

The Islanders and Rangers are battling for third place in the Metropolitan Division and enter the final weekend of the season tied with 99 points; the Islanders have a game in hand.

Video: NYI@NYR: Nielsen buries Tavares' feed on power play 

The Rangers host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday in their last game; the Islanders have home games against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. If the teams finish tied in points, the Rangers hold the first tiebreaker; they have 42 non-shootout wins to 40 for the Islanders. The third-place finisher plays the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins; the other team gets the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference and plays the Florida Panthers, the Atlantic Division champion.

The Islanders' third consecutive victory was built on a dominating performance by their fourth line and the brilliant goaltending of Greiss.

Shane Prince, the left wing on a fourth line remodeled by injury, scored the first goal and assisted on the second, by Cizikas.

But Prince said the difference in the game was Greiss, who kept the Rangers in check during the first two periods despite a clear advantage in scoring chances.

Video: NYI@NYR: Cizikas rips one past Lundqvist

"I've noticed how good of a goalie he is since I arrived here," said Prince, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 29. "He was dialed in and everyone saw that. He made countless amounts of huge saves. Without him, we might not win that game. It could be a whole different game."

The Rangers also believed the outcome could have been far different if they could have found a way to finish some of the chances they created on 28 shots in the first two periods.

"I think with the way we played the first two periods, we controlled the puck and had a lot of great looks," defenseman Marc Staal said. "I think we deserved to be up by a couple instead of down. They make a couple of plays and it is in the back of our net and we are playing from behind.

"It's disappointing when we weren't able to get a couple there when we had that momentum."

Video: NYI@NYR: Prince redirects puck between legs for goal

The goal by Cizikas, at 18:28 of the second period, was a perfect example of Staal's lament. It came less than a minute after Greiss made a brilliant sliding save on a one-timer by J.T. Miller that appeared ticketed for an open half of the net.

"Just a timely save and we turn around and get a goal," Greiss said. "Good luck there for us."

Frans Nielsen scored the third goal, on the power play. It was set up by a sublime cross-ice pass by John Tavares, who also had an empty-net goal. Tavares has eight points in his past three games.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was pulled after allowing three goals on nine second-period shots. He finished with 13 saves. Antti Raanta made six saves in the third period.

Video: NYI@NYR: Greiss denies MIller's chance

"That's part of being a goalie," Lundqvist said of being replaced. "I felt pretty sharp, and there were a couple of quick plays there where I was not able to come up with the saves, so I'm not going to overthink it; go back to work tomorrow."

Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein made it 3-1 when he scored with 2:48 remaining.

Neither team was at full strength because of injuries. The Islanders lost forward Anders Lee when he was struck in the leg by a shot from teammate Johnny Boychuk in the first period. Fourth-line left wing Matt Martin was a late scratch with an upper-body injury.

Another member of their usual fourth line, right wing Cal Clutterbuck, missed his second game with a lower-body injury. The Islanders also were without one of their top defensemen, Travis Hamonic, who's been out since March 31 (lower body), as well as No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak, who was injured March 8 and will miss at least two more weeks.

The Rangers were missing two of their top defenseman. Captain Ryan McDonagh was out with a hand injury and will not play until the start of the playoffs at the earliest. Dan Girardi sustained an upper-body injury on Tuesday and is day-to-day. His status for Saturday is uncertain.

Video: Isles move into 3rd place with 4-1 win

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