Shootout goals from Jordan Eberle and John Tavares lifted the New York Islanders to a 4-3 shootout victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in the 2017-18 season's first installment of the battle for New York.
In an overall sloppy game, the Islanders blew a 3-1 third-period lead to surrender a point to their rivals, but it was still a successful return to the East coast after a three-game West-coast swing.
"It wasn't the way that we drew it up," Tavares said. "At the end of the day, it's a win in the shootout so we'll take the two points."
While the meeting was early in the season, the two points at stake were invaluable. Entering Thursday night, the Islanders and Rangers were the bottom two teams in the Metropolitan Division with five and three points respectively.
One of the Islanders' largest problems this season was their power play, which entered the night 0-for-20 on the season. Less than three minutes into the game though, that power play was 1-for-21 as the Rangers allowed another early goal after Chris Kreider was called for a hook, prompting an early slugfest.
A centering pass from Eberle found defenseman Ryan Pulock, who was making his season debut, on Henrik Lundqvist's right post. He didn't get a lot of the shot, sliding it on goal, but the rebound off the Rangers goalie's pads came right to Anders Lee, who buried home the rebound to give the Islanders an early lead.
The Rangers provided an answer 2:22 after Lee's opener. Off a face-off win in the Islanders zone, Kevin Shattenkirk wristed a shot that was re-directed by David Desharnais over the left shoulder of Halak.
Just 1:04 later though, the Islanders retook the lead via Brock Nelson's wicked wrister that beat Lundqvist over his right shoulder. The winger was given space off an easy Islanders zone entry and was set up by Andrew Ladd, a concerning display from the Rangers defense.
It was also just the Islanders' fourth shot of the night.
Jimmy Vesey came within inches of tying the game with 3:47 left in the first when his wrister squirted through Halak, but he was able to dive and collect the puck before it trickled across the goal line.
But the Rangers looked flat and at times, uninterested, for long spells throughout the night, especially on defense.
It showed early in the second when the Islanders' advantage doubled. Just 1:15 into the frame, rookie Mathew Barzal streaked in along the left boards, held off Rick Nash and sent a cheeky wrister through Lundqvist from a tough angle for his first career NHL goal to go up 3-1.
Lee let the Rangers right back into the game in the third period when he needlessly turned the puck over at the Islanders blue line to Brendan Smith. Coming in alone on Halak, he attempted to slide a pass in front, but it was deflected by Lee, right into the path of Mats Zuccarello, who knocked it into a wide-open net 3:29 into the third.
"I felt in the third, it was really choppy and [the Rangers] were all over us," Lee said. "We couldn't get a hold of the puck. It was just one of those times where everything starts flowing like an avalanche and you're just behind the eight-ball right there."
Scott Mayfield followed suit with another bad turnover to Rick Nash in the Islanders zone, but he was bailed out when Nash hit the post on his breakaway chance.
The early goal gave the Rangers new life as they dominated most of the third period, spending most of their time in the Islanders zone.
"I really thought it was a good third period. We had to give it our all," Nash said. "The second period didn't really go our way. We've got something to build on now and we've got to move forward."
The Rangers looked like they tied the game up with 7:53 left when Smith directed the puck into the net, but it was deemed that he kicked it in, wiping the play away.
Kevin Hayes did, in fact, tie the game with 5:54 to go when he just threw a backhander to the left of Halak on the red line. Somehow, the puck squirted through between the goalie and the post to complete the comeback and steal a point.
Josh Bailey had a chance to win it in regulation in the final seconds for the Islanders, but he was stoned by Lundqvist and was unable to put home the rebound despite Lundqvist being on his back.
"It's an Islanders, Rangers game. It's a division game. It's always tough coming into this building," Lee said. "Obviously, it's a big two points."