Rangers rally with big third period to bring down Islanders

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Rangers had tunnel vision heading into the holiday and it paid off.

Fueled by the prospect of salvaging their season, as well as winning at least the last of three games they are scheduled to play against the Islanders, the Rangers saved their best for their last regular season showdown with their cross-state foes. Both goals were achieved in a 5-3 win on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden that put the Rangers on a four-day break on a high, winning eight of their last nine games.

“Ten games ago, the season wasn’t looking very good,” said Barclay Goodrow, who scored the first of three Rangers goals in the third period and assisted on Vincent Trocheck’s empty net. “You get eight out of nine and we put ourselves in a good position. We’re right in the mix. A stretch of 10 games can do a lot. We know how quickly things can go the other way. Obviously it’s a huge confidence boost in this race. I think we’re playing some good hockey, we just want to keep it up.”

Kaapo Kakko, right, celebrates the winning goal.
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If the NHL had to limit hockey fans to just three regular season games featuring one of the best rivalries in the league, the Rangers and Islanders at least made their last meeting memorable.

Not only did Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers and Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders clash in goal, but both teams skated hard, scored frequently and played with the kind of intensity that a match with playoff implications deserved. The score was tied three times. Sixteen minutes of penalty were served. And there was no shortage of action in one of the best New York battles in recent memory.

Kaapo Kakko scored the winning goal at 17:13 of the third period when the Finnish winger buried a K’Andre Miller center shot. The goal may have won the Rangers – and kept them in the middle of the Metropolitan Division standings, tied with the Penguins on 43 points – but it was the only way Kakko felt he could make up for his costly comeback earlier in the game. 🇧🇷

“I was thinking of something like that,” said Kakko. “After their second goal, it was obviously my fault. I think that happens [to] Worldwide. That’s how you need to think after that. It was nice to score a goal like that at the end, even more so after a move like that.”

The Rangers and Islanders clash during the third period.
The Rangers and Islanders clash during the third period.
Noah K. Murray – NY Post

The score was tied 1-1 in the second period, when Kakko was circling the zone, as he does with the puck. After he fumbled at the blue line, however, Mathew Barzal jumped in for a breakaway and the Islanders star lifted a nasty backhand over Shesterkin to give his team the lead.

Visually troubled, Kakko said some of his teammates had some encouraging words for the 21-year-old, which manager Gerard Gallant also noted.

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“That’s perfect because it comes from leadership,” Gallant said. “You make mistakes. Obviously, an important game like tonight and giving up that goal is difficult for a young player. But I saw [Chris] Kreider and Goodrow talking to him. You’re going to make mistakes, but it’s good that he finished the right way.”

The Rangers celebrate during their victory over the Islanders.
The Rangers celebrate during their victory over the Islanders.
Noah K. Murray – NY Post

This turn of events saw Gallant briefly promote Julien Gauthier alongside Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil after Gauthier made it 2–2 some three minutes after Barzal’s goal. Gauthier, who was skating extra hard in his first game back in the lineup after staying in the previous three, also put the shot into the net which Goodrow deflected to tie the score at 3-3 early in the third period.

In the 10 games leading up to the holiday, Rangers had to finish strong if they were to stay in such a competitive division. And his eight wins are a Christmas and Hanukkah gift.