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Isles edge Blueshirts in historic Downtown Brooklyn duel

Pull out 2-1 Shootout Victory as Rivalry Re-Ignites on Brooklyn Ice

December 3, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Islanders and Rangers brought their heated rivalry to Downtown Brooklyn for the first time ever Wednesday night as fans from both teams and players on the ice exchanged hostilities throughout. AP photo
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John Tavares, Jack Capuano, Jaroslav Halak, Kyle Okposo and the rest of the New York Islanders should all give thanks to the New York Rangers.

The Blueshirts’ mere presence alone Wednesday night inspired a playoff-type intensity on the ice and a raucous atmosphere throughout the sold-out Barclays Center during the Islanders’ thrilling 2-1 shootout victory over their arch rivals in the first-ever meeting between the Big Apple teams on Brooklyn ice.

“It was loud. It was the loudest game this year for me,” said Capuano, the Islanders’ head coach who has his team on a 4-0-1 run over the last five games.

“It was a great atmosphere,” he added. “I think the fans got their money’s worth.”

And then some.

There were brutal hits along the boards, back-and-forth chants of “Let’s go Rangers!” and “Let’s go Islanders!”, scrums around the net, a power-play goal by Tavares and 33 saves from Halak, not including the three Rangers he stoned — Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Danny Boyle — during the dramatic shootout.

“The atmosphere of the game, that was the best we had all year,” Halak said after the Islanders’ crowd of 15,795 marked their first sellout at Barclays since an Opening Night overtime loss to Chicago here on Oct. 9.

“It’s always fun to play against the Rangers,” Halak added. “It’s a big rivalry for both teams. Obviously I’m glad that we came out on top.”

So was Okposo, whose slow approach and quick-lift wrist shot beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to start the shootout round before Halak shut the visiting Blueshirts down.

Tavares, the Isles’ captain and arguably the front-runner for this year’s Hart Trophy (MVP), noted the difference between this contest and the rest of the Islanders’ home games in their new arena.

“It was a playoff-type of game, same with the atmosphere as it usually is against these guys,” he said. “It was intense, you could tell the pace was high, the intensity was there, the physicality was there, the hits were high, it had the intensity with the crowd and everyone here.”

Viktor Stalberg answered Tavares’ second-period power-play tally, his team-high 12th of the year, on an even-strength goal with less than a minute-and-a-half left in the stanza, forcing fans of both teams to grit their teeth and hold on for dear life as neither Halak nor Lundqvist yielded way throughout the rest of regulation.

The Rangers had the best opportunity of the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime, drawing a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty on the Isles’ Ryan Strome, who jumped the boards a few seconds too soon while Tavares rushed up toward Lundqvist.

But Halak stood strong and the Isles’ penalty-killing unit, among the best in the league at 84.1 percent, made sure the game would go to the at-times awkward, but still-exciting skills competition round.

“The PK has been great,” Capuano said. “That unit has been together for a while now and they are very talented. When we needed the big save by [Halak], he came up with it. … The game had a little bit of everything.”

Everything you’d want from the Downtown debut of one of our city’s most storied sports rivalries.


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