Islanders rally to pick up ‘character’ point
Erase two-goal, third-period deficit in 4-3 OT loss to Rangers
Traditionally, a loss of of any kind to the arch rival New York Rangers is very hard to swallow for the New York Islanders.
But not this loss, and certainly not in the midst of what is shaping up as a down-to-the-wire race for the final few Eastern Conference playoff spots.
“That was a hell of a comeback by us to get a point,” Isles Head Coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday night after his team rallied to force overtime before dropping a 4-3 decision to the visiting Blueshirts in front of 13,917 fans at the renovated Nassau Coliseum.
“It was a real character point for us.”
Trailing 3-1 with under six minutes remaining in regulation, the Isles (35-20-7, 76 points) cut the deficit in half on Jordan Eberle’s power-play goal at the 14:23 mark and equalized with only 17.9 ticks left when Brock Nelson delivered his team-leading 23rd goal of the year.
Though Mika Zibanejed settled matters with the game-winner just 28 seconds into the extra session, giving the surging Rangers (34-24-4) their eighth win in nine games, the Isles emerged feeling victorious just for having averted a pointless night.
“That tells me a lot about my team,” Trotz said. “Even when we were down 3-1, all the leaders, all the key guys for us were saying ‘we’re coming back in this’ and ‘let’s kill this penalty off. Let’s go.’ There was no woe is me, it was ‘we’re getting some points tonight.'”
And they did get one, which kept them one point ahead of Columbus for the first wild-card spot in the East while moving within two points of Philadelphia for third place in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Newly acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau also scored in his Isles debut as New York continued its surge toward a second consecutive playoff berth with 20 regular-season contests remaining.
“The organization, the team, all the players here made me feel comfortable since day one, really made me feel like I was part of the family,” said Pageau, who was picked up by Isles General Manager Lou Lamoriello prior to the NHL’s trade deadline after spending his first eight seasons in Ottawa.
With the Senators out of serious playoff contention, Pageau now has a chance to help the Isles make their postseason push.
“What a great pickup by Lou,” noted Trotz. “The (draft) picks (we gave up for him) are nothing. A lot of picks never play and we have a solid guy and he fits right into our team. You saw his character, how he plays, his smarts and all that. He’s going to be impactful for us. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
So are his teammates, especially after the veteran center stepped up to defend teammate Michael Dal Colle after what he described as a “high hit” by the Rangers’ Jacob Trouba early in the third period.
“He’s standing up for teammates right away,” Nelson said of Pageau. “He hasn’t been here long, but guys have respected him before. He’s going to fit right in.”
Semyon Varlamov made 24 saves for the Isles, who might want to keep closer tabs on the surging Rangers, who climbed within four points of Columbus for the second wild card by pulling out the win.
“We’re finding a way right now and that’s what we need going forward,” Zibanejad said. “Right now we’re just really consistent the way we play and the way we manage games.”
“This time of year, any team that wins a game in the National Hockey League, your goalie better be good, and our guy was really good tonight,” Rangers Head Coach David Quinn said after Alexandar Georgiev stoned the Isles for most of the night with 42 saves.
Having gone 2-0-1 on their three-game homestand, the Isles hit the road Thursday night in St. Louis before returning to Uniondale, N.Y., Saturday to host the Boston Bruins.
And they’ll do so feeling better about themselves despite an overtime loss at home to their rivals.
“We would have liked to get two (points against the Rangers), but being in that position in the game to find a way to get it to overtime and get one, we’ll take it,” said Isles forward Josh Bailey after picking up an assist on Pageau’s goal.
“I thought we played a pretty solid 60 minutes of hockey, so we can walk out of here with our heads high and move forward with a positive mindset.”
Isle Have Another: Prior to Saturday afternoon’s game vs. Boston, the Isles will hold a jersey retirement ceremony for former center and long-time team broadcaster Butch Goring at the Coliseum. Goring’s No. 91, which was most recently worn by former team captain John Tavares, will be raised to the rafters alongside former teammate John Tonelli, who had his jersey retired prior to last Friday night’s 4-1 victory over Detroit. Goring and Tonelli were both part of the dynastic Isles squad that won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-83. … Dal Colle did not return following the brutal hit he took from Trouba and defenseman Andy Greene, another of Lamoriello’s pre-deadline acquisitions, left Tuesday’s game in the first period with an upper-body injury. Both players are listed as day-to-day.
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