UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- And just like that, the Rangers are finally showing glimpses of the team that many projected them to be heading into the 2013 season.
With two games to play until the midpoint of the schedule, the black-and-Blueshirts grinded their way to their fourth straight win, topping the Islanders 2-1 in overtime with Marian Gaborik’s game-winner at Nassau Coliseum in a patient and purposeful victory.
Even after Evgeni Nabokov turned them away time and time again, the Rangers stuck with it to overwhelm the Islanders in the third period and swing momentum.
Nabokov showed little sign of relenting in stopping the first 31 shots he faced from the Rangers, but Rick Nash would not take ‘no’ for an answer. Coming in waves after Rangers coach John Tortorella shortened the bench in the third period, Nash carved his way through the Islanders zone, helping his line put sustained pressure on the Isles' defense.
In what seemed like a foregone conclusion, the star winger snapped Nabokov’s shutout bid to knot the game at 1 with 5:23 remaining in the third. Nash tipped in Derek Stepan’s slapshot from the left boards to tally his eighth goal of the season and fifth in the past four games.
“I thought we played a great road game,” said Nash, who now has eight points in the four games since he’s returned from injury. “They have some good offensive guys over there and for the most part I think we shut them down and stuck to our game plan. Like I said, it was a great road win.”
Coincidentally, all of Nash’s eight goals this season have come in the third period. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence at all.
“The great part about Nasher is his third periods are his best periods,” Tortorella said. “That’s a good sign for conditioning. He’s been a huge part for our club here and, as advertised, he’s been a game-breaker for us. Hopefully that will continue.”
Nash’s equalizer affirmed what Tortorella was preaching on the bench to his club: stay patient, stick with it.
They didn’t have to wait long for Gaborik to seal the game and secure the second point. With Michael Grabner in the box for a hooking penalty 21 seconds into overtime, Gaborik scored the game-winner with a slap-shot power-play goal at the 42-second mark.
“He always plays well in this building, that’s for sure,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 28 saves. “That’s his thing, scoring goals and this is a big one. I hope he feels good about it. He should.”
While the Rangers were celebrating their comeback victory, the Islanders were seething that they relinquished the extra point on home ice. Several members of the team and coaching staff looked livid with the hooking penalty -- and the officiating in general -- and appeared to be jawing at the officiating crew as they exited the ice.
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who got dragged down on the play, was surprised the call was viewed by the Islanders' bench as so controversial.
“I had a Grade-A scoring chance there. I feel like I got mauled there, yeah,” Del Zotto said. “I haven’t seen the replay, but just from the play itself I felt like it was a pretty easy call.”
On their end, the Rangers also made a concerted effort to stay out of the box and limit the Islanders' fifth-ranked power-plau. The Rangers took only one offsetting penalty and never had to kill off a single man-up opportunity for the Islanders.
Was discipline a focus?
“It had to be,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We talked about it for sure. Their power-play is where a lot of their offense comes off of and they get momentum off that for sure.”
“You don’t even think about it, but after the game we realized we didn’t even take a penalty,” McDonagh continued. “That’s a game-changer.”
With their fourth consecutive win, the Rangers improved to 12-8-2 and pulled within one point of the seventh-place Devils and two points of the sixth-place Ottawa Senators. The Rangers face the latter Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s a big win for us,” Lundqvist said. "Key players always step up at key moments and this was definitely an important time for us to keep this going. And I’m happy we did.”