Rangers edged by Isles in home-and-home opener
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers could not solve goaltender Dwayne Roloson until 55 seconds remained in the contest and thus dropped the first game of a home-and-home set with the Islanders, 2-1, on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. The two teams will meet again at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night.
Roloson stopped the first 23 shots he faced until Enver Lisin slipped his fourth goal of the season into the net in the game’s final minute. The Rangers had two more great scoring chances in the final seconds, but failed to score again as Roloson finished with 25 saves.
“It is simply unacceptable,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said after the game. “There has to be something done, and we’ll see along the way here before (Thursday) night’s game where we go with it.”
The Rangers, who are 1-6-2 in their last nine games, avoided their first shutout defeat of the season when Lisin scored in the final minute.
was strong between the pipes for the Rangers, but was the hard-luck loser on Wednesday. He finished with 26 saves.
“We all need to look in the mirror to see what we can do to help the team,” said Lundqvist. “I have to play even better. Hockey is a game of mistakes, but they’re pretty obvious when you are not scoring.”
After an oft-sanguine opening 26 minutes, the game began to live up to its hyped intensity level when Sean Avery
battled Roloson to the side of the Islanders’ net at the whistle 6:04 into the second period.
Avery whacked at the puck, which was trapped in Roloson’s pads. The Islanders’ goalie objected and slashed at Avery’s leg with his goalie stick. Avery immediately began to grapple with Roloson, as other players paired off near Roloson’s crease.
Not only did the scrum bring the fans to their collective feet, but the Rangers were awarded their first power play of the game. Roloson received four minutes in penalties, while Avery was assessed only a roughing minor.
The Rangers came within inches of cashing in on the power play at 6:44, but Michael Del Zotto
’s open shot from between the circles caromed off the crossbar and into the protective netting above the glass.
A minute later, Ales Kotalik fell down at the blueline, allowing the Isles’ Frans Nielsen a clear shorthanded breakaway. Lundqvist, though, made the save of the game by sprawling out in frog-like fashion to stone Nielsen with a terrific right-pad save.
The intensity continued to build as the second period moved along. Donald Brashear
and Isles’ defenseman Brendan Witt wrestled by the Islanders’ crease after Roloson made a save. And Del Zotto sent Jon Sim flying into the back boards after the Islanders’ forward poked at Lundqvist’s pads after a whistle to stop play.
The Rangers clearly had more life in their game in the middle stanza, but yet they headed to the dressing room after 40 minutes of play trailing 1-0.
Sim scored at 14:25 of the first period giving the Islanders a well-deserved lead. The Islanders shut down the neutral zone, forechecked with passion, and limited the Rangers to only three shots on goal in the first period.
“There’s no excuse for the way we played in the first period,” said defenseman Marc Staal
. “They forechecked us hard and were in our face, and we couldn’t respond. We have to be better in our home rink against the Islanders. No excuses.”
Their goal, though somewhat lucky, was a product of the Islanders’ hard work. Sim drove to the front of the net as defenseman Jack Hillen lugged the puck around the Rangers’ net untouched from right to left. Hillen fired a centering pass towards the crease, and the puck hit Sim in the leg, bounced high in the air over Lundqvist and into the net.
“That’s a goal we don’t get,” Tortorella said of the Islanders’ gritty score.
The Rangers had very few offensive chances in that opening period, but they skated with more purpose in the second. However, several of their best opportunities ended up missing the net. Christopher Higgins -- the most physical Ranger on the ice, other than Avery -- had the puck poked off his stick by Blake Comeau during a 2-on-1 rush early in the second.
A few minutes later Marian Gaborik
shoveled a rebound of Ilkka Heikkinen
’s slap shot under Roloson, but just wide of the net. And midway through the period Ryan Callahan
redirected Avery’s pretty cross-ice feed over the net during an odd-man rush.
“We got better as the game went along,” said team captain Chris Drury
. “But certainly there was no excuse for that start.”
In the third period, the Islanders were able to once again gain control of the neutral zone, making it extremely difficult for the Rangers to mount any consistent offensive pressure on Roloson. Meanwhile Lundqvist made several big saves to keep his team in the game, stoning Kyle Okposo on the doorstep at 6:05 and coming up big against a wide-open John Tavares three minutes later.
The Islanders scored the eventual game-winner with 3:10 to play when Blake Comeau potted the rebound of a Matt Moulson shot for his second goal of the season.
“The Islanders are a huge rivalry for this team,” said Staal. “To come out the way we did is embarrassing.”
A chance at redemption is right around the corner, as the Rangers and Islanders will square off on Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum, the third meeting this season between these two local hockey clubs.
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