The Rangers saved their best for the last regular-season meeting with the Islanders.
After losing the first two matchups against their cross-state foe in crushing fashion, the Rangers turned it around and did the same to the Islanders with a 5-3 comeback victory behind three goals in the third period. The win sends the Rangers into the holiday break on a high note as winners of eight of their last nine games.
If the NHL had to deprive hockey fans of one of the better rivalries in the league for the rest of this season, the Rangers and Islanders at least made their last meeting of the 2022-23 regular season one to remember.
Not only did the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin and the Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin square off in goal, but both teams skated hard, scored often and played with the kind of intensity that a matchup with playoff implications deserved.
Kaapo Kakko made up for a costly turnover earlier in the game by netting the game-winner at 17:13 of the third period, which was followed by an empty-netter from Vincent Trocheck.
Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant made his usual in-game adjustments, one of which followed a Kakko turnover at the blue line that sprung Islanders star Mathew Barzal for a breakaway. The Finnish winger held on to the puck for too long and fumbled it before Barzal pushed it ahead and backhanded it in for a 2-1 lead 2:39 into the second period.
That landed Kakko on the fourth line, which in turn promoted Julien Gauthier next to Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil for just a few shifts later in the second period. Gauthier, who was skating again after serving as a healthy scratch in the previous three contests, made it a 2-2 score roughly three minutes after Barzal’s goal.
Taking a leading pass on the rush, Gauthier made a strong move to the net and backhanded the puck right through Sorokin’s pads. It was exactly the kind of play the Rangers have come to expect night after night from Gauthier, but the 25-year-old wing usually has struggled to finish it.
Still, Gauthier played with some oomph to his game after his longest stretch of scratches with the Rangers this season. He also sent a shot on net that Barclay Goodrow deflected in to knot the score at 3-3 at the start of the third period.
Vitali Kravtsov also logged 7:45 on the top line with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The Islanders managed to respond every time the Rangers scored. After Gauthier’s goal, Alexander Romanov fired one from the top of the zone that made its way past Shesterkin, who finished the game with 15 saves.
The Islanders struck first on a crowded play in front of the Rangers’ net, when captain Anders Lee turned around and banked the puck in off Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren to open the scoring. The lead didn’t last for long, however, especially since the Islanders put the Rangers on the power play three times through the first 20 minutes.
After Panarin drew a holding penalty on Scott Mayfield, defenseman Noah Dobson was called for delay of game to give the Rangers a five-on-three advantage for 44 seconds. Their power-play units kept it in the offensive zone for a majority of the extended power play before Panarin blasted a one-timer from the left faceoff circle to tie the score at 1-1 with less than three minutes to go in the opening period.
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