The Islanders clashed with the Rangers for the first time this season on Wednesday (10/28) night. With lots of New York sports fans focused on the start of baseball's World Series, we wondered if the heated hockey tilt would take a back seat this time around.
We are happy to report it did not. We are even happier to report that the Islanders emerged victorious, giving those fans aligned with both the Yankees and Rangers a double dose of depression to deal with in the morning.
While we were scrambling to find parking and get into the building, Matt Moulson had already struck. He was slipped a beautiful breakaway pass by scrappy Jack Hillen just 55 seconds into the contest, and beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist stick side. It was 1-0 Islanders before we had even found our seat. Moulson is still leading the team in scoring, with 6 goals and 4 assists, in case you had forgotten.
Scoring first was a relief, but too many times this season (and others) we've seen an early lead evaporate. And unfortunately this lead went by the boards too, as the Rangers tied the game on P.A. Parenteau's first NHL goal at 8:30 of the period.
The Isles could have easily fallen behind in this one, but on this night the posts were Dwayne Roloson's friends. The cage saved two potential goals for the home netminder before Kyle Okposo struck on the power play in the 2nd to recapture the lead for the Isles. Nifty passing by Doug Weight and a Jack Hillen shot rebound allowed Okie to beat Lundquist with 1:46 left in the stanza.
John Tavares, feeling left out as the only non-scorer on the "Moulson Golden" line, sealed the game for the Isles with about 6 minutes left to play. JT's 4th goal overall and first against his team's arch rivals sent the Rangers fans who had attended packing and the Isles boosters into a frenzy. 3-1 was the final in Uniondale.
It was a relatively clean game on the ice infraction-wise (compared to some we've witnessed in the past), and certainly the Isles' best performance of the season.
Coach Scott Gordon singled out players like Richard Park and Josh Bailey during his post-game conference, stating that while their names didn't hit the stat sheet they certainly aided in the win. Defensive mistakes were not made, and he lauded his team for playing a "full 60 minutes."
We will add this: if the Isles can play this way every night they can be a playoff team. Consistent effort is the only thing holding them back.
Dwayne Roloson confirmed this for us in a corner of the dressing room. "We blocked shots [on the penalty kill], we put sticks in the lane." He continued, "That was K.I.S.S. hockey. Keep it simple, stupid. We played our game plan to a tee." Roloson made 34 saves and recorded the win, the team's first this year in regulation.
The mood was jublilant among the other players too. Tavares was seen wearing a celebratory hardhat, and Kyle was laughing and smiling with his mates. Curiously, nobody approached KO for a sound bite this time. We'll try to remedy that later this week when we sit down with him for a fun Q&A to try to learn a little more about the emerging star.
***Fun Fact: With Kyle's point tonight, his 52nd with the team, he passes Viktor Kozlov on the all-time Islanders scoring list! But you already knew that.