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Third period goals lift Islanders over Rangers

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The Islanders took Round 3 of the Battle of New York.

After trading shutouts to start the season, the Rangers and Islanders went head to head at Madison Square Garden on Monday night to wrestle for a leg up in the series and the East standings — where both teams entered the game in a three-way tie with the Sabres in the basement of the division.

The Islanders emerged with a 2-0 victory after 50 minutes of neck-and-neck play, as Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin buried a goal each just over two minutes apart in the third period to end the Rangers’ short-lived two-game winning streak.

Once Cizikas cleaned up an Adam Pelech shot from the point, after Libor Hajek sent a blind backhand pass into the middle of the ice, to break the scoring drought at 11:15 of the third, the Rangers lost their heads and let their defense collapse in front of rookie netminder Igor Shesterkin.

The win was Barry Trotz’s 850th as an NHL coach, lifting him past Ken Hitchcock for sole possession of third place on the league’s all-time list. With a 30-save performance, Semyon Varlamov became the first Islanders goaltender in franchise history to blank the Rangers twice in the same season.

islanders edge rangers in close one
The Isles’ Casey Cizikas scores the game-winner on Igor Shesterkin
Getty Images

“Anytime you lose it’s frustrating,” Chris Kreider said after the loss, which dropped the Rangers to 4-5-2. “When you feel like you’ve defended pretty well for the entirety of the night and you give up in the third, 30 seconds or a minute of kind of getting away from our structure, and it ends up in the back of the net.

“That’s what’s gonna happen in our division and against veteran teams, so we’ve got to play a full 60, doesn’t matter who we’re playing in our division. There’s a lot of good teams that stick to their structure and know how to win hockey games. Like I said before, we’ve got to find a way to generate more offense.”

By the end of the third, the Islanders blew open the Rangers’ zone that was intact for a majority of the night. Cal Clutterbuck had an easy carry into the offensive zone and hit the tape of Martin’s stick for the tap in at 13:20 to put the Islanders up 2-0.

Both teams traded punches through the first half of the final 20 minutes, with each club fighting for quality opportunities to get on the board.

Less than two minutes into the third period, Artemi Panarin jumped out for a breakaway but Varlamov gloved it down. Shesterkin then stymied a Cizikas tip-in attempt on the other end.

Mika Zibanejad, who has gone without a point in seven of the Rangers’ last eight games, nearly converted on a two-on-one rush right after, but Varlamov came up with another big save at 3:17 of the third.

“Zero-zero going to the third, we had some great chances in the third period before they made it 1-0,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said. “And we just couldn’t capitalize and it was a tight game, and in a lot of ways, not much going on both sides of it. They took advantage of their chances.”

The Rangers had three power-play opportunities, but barely generated any offense despite the man-advantage. If there was a positive to take away from a shutout loss, the Rangers managed to win 61.4 percent of faceoffs (27 of 44) after focusing on their play from the dots in recent practices.

“We needed to raise the pace,” Kreider said. “We can’t play at their pace, we have to play that much quicker to allow ourselves to make plays into going north and to get more pucks to the net instead of just playing in corners and kind of playing that grind-it-out style.”

These teams won’t see each other again until April 9. The Rangers will have to wait to try and even the series once again, when they get into the ring at Nassau Coliseum for Round 4.

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