UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- If Saturday night was representative of what a true Islanders-Rangers rivalry can be, then let us all hope the two clubs continue to play meaningful games each April.
Despite more than three scoreless periods of hockey, there could not have been one fan in the sellout crowd of 16,170 at Nassau Coliseum who left disappointed with the caliber and intensity of play.
From start to finish of the Rangers’ 1-0 overtime win, the Isles and Rangers played at a frenetic and desperate pace that could only be truly replicated in a postseason series rife with bad blood and hostility.
"It felt like a playoff game. Two cities, two teams that are big rivals this late in the season, battling for a playoff spot. I mean, you know you’re going to get that intensity," said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. "The crowd’s into it, the players are into it and it’s close to a playoff game as you can get for the regular season."
This one had all the elements -- superb goaltending, a handful of posts, board-shaking hits and some heated skirmishes -- to ensure that no one was left yawning while 63:11 minutes elapsed until the game’s first goal.
And it was a beauty, as new addition Derick Brassard made a great feed to Dan Girardi, allowing the Rangers defenseman just the right amount of time and space to pick the top left corner and beat Isles goaltender Evgeni Nabokov for the win with 1:49 remaining in overtime.
"He made a great saucer pass, pretty much right on my tape, gave me a lot of time to make a pass or pick a corner," said Girardi, who earned the Broadway Hat in scoring his second goal of the season.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist earned his first shutout of the season, an appropriate end to a game studded with stellar saves (29 in total) from the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, as the Rangers pulled within one point of the seventh-place Islanders.
It was the third time in the two clubs’ four meetings this season that extra time was required.
"It’s always fun to end a game like this, when you’re playing well. The guys worked so hard to try to get the win and it’s like the last time we were in here," Lundqvist said. "We come up big on the last play, and we’ve got to build from this one."
Although the eighth-place Blueshirts could’ve leap-frogged their division rivals in the standings with a regulation win, the Isles were also impressive the entire night as hosts to an old barn that was absolutely electric.
A significant amount of Rangers fans littered the home crowd, but it made for an amazing atmosphere that elevated the intensity on the ice.
"I never played in a game like that before," said Brassard, a trade-deadline acquisition from Columbus with no idea what to expect. "It was unreal."
The balance of power between the two New York hockey teams has evened out this season, after the Rangers have been the team to beat in recent years.
The Islanders, 8-1-2 in their past 11 games, are poised to make their first playoff appearance since 2007, a fact that seems to be setting in for a long-suffering fan base that deserves some reward for its loyalty.
Those fans, along with the Blueshirts who made the trek out to Long Island, packed the house and deserve much of the credit for what turned out to be an incredible experience for both teams.
"I think it felt a little different driving to the game. There was thousands of people in the parking lot getting ready to go for tonight’s game and it kind of got us fired up, seeing that going on," Girardi said. "Warm-up was loud again, and it’s always fun to come to this building. We get a lot of fans here and their fans were really loud tonight, too, so there was definitely a lot of energy in the building that both teams fed off of."
Hopefully, Saturday’s game was one of many more like it to come.