After defeating the New Jersey Devils by a whopping score of 7-3 on Sunday afternoon in their first Stadium Series appearance, the New York Rangers came back out onto the Yankee Stadium ice tonight to brave the single-digit temperatures and face-off against their foes from Nassau County, the New York Islanders, who played their first ever game outdoors this evening.
We saw a similar start to the one we observed on Sunday. Both teams, especially the Isles, seemed to be feeling the ice out once again and feeling each other out to get a sense of what they were trying to accomplish, when they were trying to, and where. It seemed that the puck was bouncing much more than it was in the previous game, as players found it very tough to try and make a play. The Islanders had a power-play chance after Brad Richards went to the box for hooking, but they couldn’t generate much as the Rangers killed it off nicely, as they have done with so many other penalties this season. With 2:03 left to play in the opening period, forward Mats Zuccarello got called for interference, a weak call at best. It didn’t show on the scoreboard though as the Rangers were able to kill it off. Nothing much developed on the offensive side of things as both teams were very sound defensively to stop anything drastic from evolving. The hockey clubs entered their respective locker rooms scoreless.
In the middle stanza the floodgates opened for both sides. Each team found themselves with a little more space and started generating scoring opportunities. Goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Nabokov were forced to make multiple saves in order to keep the game scoreless for their teammates. The Isles looked like a completely different team as they were dominating the Rangers and dictating the pace of play. After only spurts of chances and shots, the crowd finally saw the first two goals of the game. Brock Nelson got the first one, as he put the puck through Lundqvist’s legs from the faceoff circle, giving his team a 1-0 lead. The Rangers responded quickly though; after some hard fore-checking down low, Derick Brassard managed to squeeze the puck into the slot and it bounced right on the stick of Benoit Pouliot, who shoveled it into the gaping net, tying the game at one. Everyone knew this would be a game of lucky bounces, and that’t exactly what we saw in the final 1:30 of this period. The score after the second was 1-1.
Feelings were tense entering the third, as both teams would find two points very useful to them in terms of standings in the East. Rick Nash made a strong play and took the puck to the net as he was hooked from behind by Thomas Vanek. The Rangers got their first power-play chance of the game, but couldn’t convert as the Isles penalty-killers (including Nabokov) stood strong and kept the game tied at one. After continuous hard work and effort by the Rangers, they got rewarded with a four-on-two break, and as Dan Carcillo was following up the play, he smacked the puck home past a sprawling Nabokov to give his team an important goal and a 2-1 lead with 15 minutes left in the period. As time ticked away, heart rates and anxiety certainly grew. The final minute was where all the action happened, as the top guns for the Isles had some prime chances but Lundqvist and some lucky bounces stopped the puck from going into the net. The Rangers hung on to their 2-1 lead and picked up points 60 and 61 on the season.
Player of the game honors definitely go to Lundqvist. This man has carried the team for the past several years and he showed tonight why he is a Vezina winner and nominee constantly. He was the difference in this game and made the big stops when his team needed them and picked up two huge points for the Blueshirts tonight.
The Rangers went two for two in the Stadium Series with Sunday’s win over NJ and tonight’s win over the Isles.
The rivalry doesn’t stop here however, the Rangers and Islanders will meet this Friday night at Madison Square Garden when they battle it out for the last time in the regular season.