Rangers seize Stadium Series sweep

NEW YORK -- Wednesday night's game in the Bronx was a starkly different game from Sunday's rout of the New Jersey Devils -- an offensive onslaught that saw two teams combine for 10 goals -- but the New York Rangers won this one, too, dispatching the Islanders 2-1 to complete a Stadium Series sweep.

There wasn't much room on the ice, the temperature was a bit more frigid and both teams had to battle with a bouncing puck all night long. But despite a desperate Islanders club that came with a furious flurry in the third period while trying to avoid its fourth straight loss, the Rangers held on for the second consecutive win at Yankee Stadium.

Again, the place was packed, with 50,027 in attendance.

"It's a great stadium, but you need the fans to make it special," said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the night with 30 saves. "It was awesome. Again."

Give credit to the Rangers for keeping a tight focus. Never once amidst the pageantry surrounding the pair of outdoor games did the Blueshirts fail to grasp the importance. Two bitter division rivals. Four points at stake. The Rangers didn't squander the opportunity despite the ample distraction.

With five wins in their past seven games, the Rangers improved to 29-23-3, tied in points (61) with fifth-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference and firmly entrenched in second within the Metropolitan Division.

"You take it all in the day before, but when it comes to the game, you really bear down and focus," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.

A tight-checking game that was scoreless through almost the first two periods saw the Rangers surrender the game's first goal to rookie forward Brock Nelson with 1:27 remaining in the second. The Rangers answered back almost immediately, though, tying the game just 40 seconds later on Benoit Pouliot's equalizer with 47 seconds remaining in the frame.

It was a goal that changed the game, one that was set up by Derick Brassard as he tried to bank the puck off the backside of Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

"We knew that Nabokov was coming really hard out of his crease and ... I tried to bank it off his back to go in and I missed both times. The last time I thought I hit [Pouliot] right in the chin and it went in," Brassard explained. "It was not pretty."

Fourth-line forward Daniel Carcillo added what would stand up as the game winner 4:36 into the third period, banging home a rebound on a 4-on-2 rush.

The Rangers held on the rest of the way, despite some quality chances from the Islanders' top line. The win allowed them to savor the experience that much more.

"That's like the highlight of my career so far," Brassard said of the two games. "Just to play here. I think when both teams come out of the tunnel, I think that's when you realize that it's awesome. You share the passion of the game with so many people. The game meant something."

Defenseman Marc Staal, who also played in the Winter Classic against the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2012, gave a similar endorsement.

"These are a ton of fun to play in. I could play in 50 of these a year," said Staal, who was awarded the MVP Broadway Hat. "It's a lot of fun being out in that atmosphere."

Seeing his charges gut out a win in such challenging weather conditions afforded coach Alain Vigneault a new perspective on his club.

Granted, he cringed a bit when seeing guys block shots, but was impressed with both the sacrifice and commitment on display, nonetheless.

"It takes a lot of courage to do those things on a night like this," Vigneault said. "Our guys did it and we've got to keep doing it if we're going to win and get into the playoffs."

This is looking now like a team that is beginning to come together. A team that may actually be capable of doing some damage come playoff time.

Both Vigneault and Lundqvist have seen a change in the past few months. They hope it continues.

"We're starting to grow together as a team," Lundqvist said. "Now's the time to do it."