By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
In a wild and exciting back-and-forth Valentines Day game at Madison Square Garden Thursday night, the Rangers let an early 2-0 lead slip away , losing to the Islanders 4-3 in a game decided by the shootout. The loss snapped the Rangers three-game win streak, as well as the Islanders five-game losing skid.
Martin Biron made his second start of the season in goal for the Rangers and finished with 28 saves. Carl Hagelin and Gaborik each scored a goal and added an assist for the Blueshirts, who peppered Nabokov with 39 shots.
The Rangers raced out to a 2-0 lead and fired the first ten shots of the game on goal before the Islanders recorded their initial shot on Biron nearly 14 minutes into the opening period. But the Islanders finished the first period in strong fashion and then opened the second period by scoring three goals on their first four shots to stun the Blueshirts and take a 3-2 lead of their own, before Hagelin scored a power play goal at 11:14 to ensure the two teams hit the second intermission all even 3-3.
Dan Girardi opened the scoring at 3:36 of the first one-timing a Hagelin pass through a maze in front of Nabokov for his first goal of the season. An aggressive forecheck by Rick Nash helped set the play in motion, with Hagelin then skating with the puck behind the net and wheeling a pass to the right circle for Girardi.
The Rangers upped their lead to 2-0 at 11:28 when Gaborik hammered a rebound past a defenseless Nabokov after Brad Richards was stopped twice in-tight by the Isles goalie. The goal was Gaborik's team-high seventh of the season, and it seemed as though a rout might be in the offing for the home team. That was not to be the case, however, as the Islanders finished the first period strong, firing six shots at Biron in the final six minutes.
Biron was tested on the visitors' first shot when Matt Martin split defenders Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy for a partial breakaway. Martin fired away from inside the circles, but Biron made a solid glove save. Less than a minute later Biron robbed Matt Moulson from point-blank range.
The Blueshirts backup goaltender was not as fortunate to start the second period. Colin McDonald scored from in front just 29 seconds into the middle stanza to cut the Rangers lead in half before John Tavares ripped his eighth goal of the season past Biron at 6:45 on an unassisted rush up left wing just seconds after the Isles killed off a 5-on-3 Rangers power play and then the ensuing 5-on-4. Forty seconds later Brad Boyes snuck his fourth goal past Biron from beneath the right circle and just like that the Rangers were trailing by one.
Given another chance on the power play the Rangers took advantage to tie the game with 8:46 to play in the second. Gaborik floated a pass towards the net and Hagelin at first kicked the puck at Nabokov before collecting the puck with his stick and tucking it inside the post. Officials imemdiately called for a video review, and after a lengthy delay Hagelin was awarded his fifth goal of the season---and fourth in the last three games---to pull the Blueshirts even.
The two teams played an exciting, yet scoreless third period, one that saw Biron stone Tavares from point-blank range with 5:17 to play, and then Nabokov return the favor with a huge left-toe save on Gaborik off a scramble with 2:45 remaining in regulation.
Brian Boyle returned to the Rangers lineup for the first time in four games after being a healthy scratch the previous three. He played an angry, hard-nose game, delivering several big hits and using his size and strong skating to create a string of scoring chances. Boyle's thunderous hit on Joe Finley early in the third period not only sent the big Isles defenseman to the ice, but it earned the Blueshirts a power play when Finley's stick came down on Boyle's nose.
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