Last night’s Rangers-Islanders tilt at Nassau Coliseum (my first visit of the season) was a snapshot of two teams headed in opposite directions. The Rangers came in riding a hot streak (6 straight wins, second place in the division), while the Isles sorely needed a win (9 losses in their past 10 games, last place in the conference). It was an intense game, as always, and that intensity boiled over to the stands (a fistfight next to my section needed a few guards to be broken up before the 1st period was over — always good times).
Both teams took turns dominating the puck throughout the game, and both goalies rose to the occasion by making some ridiculous saves on prime chances. The Rangers had opportunities to put a stranglehold on the game, but kept letting the Isles hang around — most notably, at the end of the second period, when they failed to convert a 5 on 3 power play. They would enter the 3rd period holding a slim 2-1 lead.
But the Isles didn’t go quietly in the 3rd. They answered back with a goal to tie up the game and get their home fans (which was about a 50-50 split) back into the game. This tipped momentum way over to their side — they were now the ones flying all over the place, goalie Evgeni Nabokov made a few more insane saves — and it hit its crescendo when play stopped and the Coliseum organist played the home fans’ favorite “If you know the Rangers suck, clap your hands” song. To me in hockey, it always seems like if one team has a little too much momentum riding on their side without actually taking the lead, the other team has a knack for stopping it cold with one of those out-of-nowhere goals. So while the song was playing and the Isles fans were anticipating a winning goal, I thought it would make sense that the Rangers would get one of these goals soon.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, Josh Bailey turned it over in the Isles’ zone, and Brad Richards buried a slap shot past Nabokov to put the Rangers up, 3-2. That stopped the Isles’ momentum dead in its tracks, and with under 5 minutes left, pretty much spelled game over. It was somewhat of a sloppy game — the teams combined to go 1-9 on the power play — but definitely had a playoff-type feel to it. The next time these two rivals will face off will be at the Garden on December 22nd.