UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Jaroslav Halak faced more traffic on the ice inside than in the snow outside. He handled both nearly flawlessly and carried the New York Islanders to yet another win over the New York Rangers.
Halak stopped 40 shots, falling 8.1 seconds short of his second consecutive shutout of the Rangers, and the Islanders beat their biggest rivals 4-1 on Jan. 27 in their return from the NHL All-Star break.
“There was nothing outside on the roads,” Halak said one day after a snowstorm blanketed the area. “It was easy for us coming in, no cars. It took me less time than usual.”
The Islanders have won all three meetings this season with the Rangers, taking the first two at Madison Square Garden and outscoring them 13-4 overall. Halak beat them 3-0 on Jan. 13.
“It looked almost the same,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.” They came out real well. I don’t know if it was us mishandling (the puck) or a combination of that and them forcing us into mistakes, but we made some bad decisions that really cost us.”
The Islanders had a shutout streak of 122 minutes, 1 second — their longest against the Rangers, whom they have never blanked in consecutive games.
Carl Hagelin spoiled Halak’s shutout bid in the closing seconds. “Obviously it’s disappointing, but we got a win,” said Halak, who has 26 wins this season. “It’s not like it was a 1-0 game. Hopefully next time I will have more luck at the end.”
The Islanders (32-14-1) enjoyed a good night after nearly facing a weather postponement. They are tied with Detroit at 65 points atop the Eastern Conference, with a game in hand.
“It was like a playoff game. It was a huge game for both teams,” Halak said. “We keep getting points each game. The second half is going to be even harder than the first half.”
Mikhail Grabovski returned from injury and scored in the first period, Matt Martin doubled the lead in the second, and Ryan Strome and All-Star John Tavares had goals in the third.
Henrik Lundqvist was also sharp for the Rangers in making 34 saves, but spent the third period hearing derisive chants of his name and others proclaiming, “You can’t beat us!”
Undeterred by a Jan. 26 snowstorm, fans of both teams packed the Nassau Coliseum in the first of three remaining regular-season games between the clubs before the Islanders relocate to Brooklyn. Fans chanted support in alternating fashion, giving the old arena a playoff-like feel.
“We love the atmosphere when we play the Rangers,” Martin said. “I didn’t have any doubt the fans would show up for this one. They’ve been here all year.”
The Islanders didn’t miss a beat in their first game without top-line forward Kyle Okposo, expected to be out six to eight weeks due to an upper-body injury.
Tavares’ 22nd goal came on a two-man power play.
The Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders won for the sixth time in seven games and again cooled off the Rangers. In their last 20 games, the Rangers have lost four times, but two were to Halak, an All-Star in his first season with the Islanders.
The Islanders took a 1-0 lead with 1:55 left in the first — a period they dominated 17-10 in shots. Only Lundqvist kept the Rangers from being blown out early.
He had virtually no chance on Grabovski’s seventh goal that came at the end of a Harlem Globetrotters-like sequence.
After a series of quick passes in tic-tac-toe fashion, Josh Bailey sent a touch feed from the right circle to Grabovski in the slot for his second goal in 13 games.
Grabovski sat out the previous five because of a lower-body injury before taking Okposo’s spot on the top line with Tavares and Bailey.
Martin got his goal 4:11 into the second period, 1:12 after the Islanders’ first power play expired. Martin sent a pass from behind the Rangers net up to Casey Cizikas for a shot Lundqvist stopped. Cal Clutterbuck nudged the rebound to Martin, who scored his seventh inside the right post.
The Rangers did little with their first power play moments later, and again struggled with the Islanders’ aggressive forecheck. The Rangers outshot the Islanders 18-11 in the second to forge a 28-all tie through 40 minutes, yet still couldn’t solve Halak.
“A loss is a loss. It’s disappointing,” Lundqvist said. “They outplayed us. They came out well and did a lot of things well. A game like this, you need something to go your way.”Islanders beat rival Rangers again, 4-1
(IRA PODELL, AP Hockey Writer)