New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) – Jaroslav Halak’s 27 saves and a dominant second period kept the Islanders the toast of New York, as the current Metropolitan Division leaders dealt the crosstown rival Rangers a 3-0 defeat at Madison Square Garden.
Anders Lee, Nikolay Kulemin and Frans Nielsen all lit the lamp during the middle session to help the Islanders close out a season-high seven-game road trip with five wins and remain ahead of Pittsburgh for the division lead.
“Certainly it’s going to make a lot of people on Long Island happy (Wednesday) morning,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. We’re excited about beating them. Obviously they’ve been playing well and the top of our division is real tight, so just a big game.”
The Rangers entered Tuesday’s anticipated showdown with victories in 13 of their previous 14 games, but couldn’t maintain the momentum as Halak outplayed Henrik Lundqvist and the Isles finished with a 44-27 advantage in shots.
“We were the slower team, which we haven’t been in this last stretch,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We know what makes us successful and we just weren’t doing it tonight. They were definitely making us look pretty slow out there.”
Lundqvist was replaced by Cam Talbot at the start of the third period after stopping 29-of-32 chances.
The Rangers’ star netminder was able to withstand an early barrage during the early stages of a second period in which the Islanders controlled from the opening whistle, but Lee finally broke the scoreless deadlock by backhanding through a rebound of Calvin de Haan’s long drive 8:49 into the stanza.
The Islanders then struck twice more in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the frame, with Kulemin extending the lead to 2-0 by ripping a puck that fell to his feet over Lundqvist’s shoulder while stationed in the slot.
An Islanders penalty late in the period provided the Rangers an opportunity to close the gap. However, Nielsen blocked a pass in his own end on the man advantage, then raced up the right side and fired a wrister under Lundqvist’s arm for a short-handed tally 40.9 seconds prior to the intermission.
“We went out in the second and you could see us just getting our game going and starting to wear them down, making them have to defend,” said Tavares. “Eventually we got rewarded.”
Talbot made 12 saves in the third period, where Halak faced just six shots to polish off his sixth shutout of the season.
Both teams had a few close calls before Lee ended the stalemate. The Islanders had a Matt Martin goal waved off 4:19 into the second period when teammate Casey Cizikas made contact with Lundqvist. The Rangers hit the post three times, including back-to-back attempts from Rick Nash and Derick Brassard just seconds apart, in the first.
Nielsen’s goal was the Islanders’ league-leading seventh in short-handed situations … The Islanders have prevailed in five of their last six visits to MSG, including a 6-3 triumph on Oct. 14 behind Halak’s 40 saves. Lundqvist stopped just 21-of-27 pucks in that matchup … Rangers forward Martin St. Louis skated in his 1,100th career NHL game, while teammate Marc Staal played in No. 500 … Islanders forward Mikhail Grabovski missed a second straight game due to a lower-body injury.