For the second straight contest Rick Nash scored the first two goals of the game, but unlike Sunday night against Washington the Rangers could not follow the strong start with a victory on Tuesday, instead dropping a 5-3 decision to the Islanders at Madison Square Garden, a loss which snapped the Blueshirts three-game winning streak.
With the score tied 3-3 late in the third period the Rangers were caught with too many men on the ice, and the Islanders made them pay dearly for the mistake. Thomas Vanek scored from in front with just 4:38 remaining in regulation to give the Islanders their first lead of the night, and it proved to be the game-winner. Frans Neilsen added an empty-net goal with 6.1 seconds left to seal the Rangers fate.
Chris Kreider scored a goal and added a pair of assists for the Rangers in defeat, while Nash scored those first two goals, giving him nine in his last nine games.
Cam Talbot was pressed into an emergency start between the pipes for the Rangers when Henrik Lundqvist called in sick prior to the morning skate. Talbot allowed more than two goals for only the third time in 14 starts this season as his record fell to 10-4-0. He finished with 32 saves. David LeNeveu was signed and recalled from Hartford to serve as Talbot's backup with Lundqvist remaining at home.
A wildly entertaining and back-and-forth first 40 minutes ended in a 3-3 tie, with the Islanders feeling much better about the score than the Rangers who had jumped out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before seeing their Long Island rivals rally in the second half of the second period to pull even.
For the second straight game Nash got the Rangers started on the right foot, scoring on his first shift. In Sunday's 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals Nash opened the scoring 70 seconds into play, and on Tuesday night he bettered that mark by eight seconds beating Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin 1:02 into the game to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Kreider chased down a puck behind the Islanders goal line and then found a streaking Nash on right wing, and Nash ripped a low hard shot far side to open the scoring.
Then, just as he did Sunday against the Capitals, Nash followed his game-opening goal with another in the first period to give the Blueshirts a 2-0 lead. This time Dan Girardi found Nash with a long pass through center ice, springing him on a breakaway. It seemed as though Poulin had the left post covered with his pad, but Nash found an opening and slid the puck into the back of the cage for his team-leading 16th goal of the season at 11:07 of the first period.
Where Tuesday's script deviated from Sunday's is that the third goal of the contest did not belong to the Blueshirts as it did against Washington two nights prior. Instead the Islanders drew within one before the first intermission when Matt Martin buried a pretty John Tavares pass with 2:38 remaining in the period, cutting the Rangers lead to 2-1.
The Islanders actually outplayed the Rangers for large parts of the opening period, but a solid Talbot stopped 15 of 16 shots to help the home team hold on to its lead. The visitors pinned their hosts back in their own end for long stretches and forced the Rangers into several turnovers with their aggressive forecheck.
After a slew of penalties both ways, the Rangers found themselves on their fourth power play of the night midway through the second period and Kreider was able to convert the rebound of a Derek Stepan shot which had hit the post behind Poulin and the Rangers once again had themselves a two-goal advantage. The goal was Kreider's 13th this season, and it was also his third point of the night, equaling his single-game career-high set earlier this season when he notched a Hat Trick against Vancouver on November 30th.
The Islanders, though, responded with a pair of goals in a three-minute span late in the second period to pull even and quiet The Garden crowd. Defenseman Thomas Hickey gained position down low on Girardi and one-timed a Kyle Okposo feed past Talbot at 13:22, and then Colin McDonald tied it 3-3 at 16:36 converting a Tavares rebound in the slot.
Both teams had a good gold chance to untie the score early in the third period, but brilliant saves by the two goaltenders kept the score 3-3. Poulin flashed a quick glove to rob Ryan McDonagh who snapped a rising shot from left wing that was ticketed to the far upper corner of the net one minute into the third. Talbot responded at the 4:30 mark when he fired across his crease to make a terrific left-pad save on Tavares' slick wraparound attempt.
The Rangers will face the Islanders twice more before the end of the month---next Wednesday outdoors at Yankee Stadium, then a week from this Friday again at Madison Square Garden. Next up the Blueshirts skate against the St. Louis Blues Thursday at MSG.