A BRAND NEW OUT LOOK
Hot Isles continue their run to playoff contention with victory vs. Rangers
The Islanders are not the same team they were a month ago, not by a long shot. And the Rangers just got a look firsthand.
In a game that was a revival of this newly infrequent hatred, one that woke up what has been a rather bleak building, the Islanders showed their necessary desperation and beat the Rangers 4-2 Thursday night at a loud and sold-out Barclays Center.
The dark outlook that existed for the Islanders (26-20-10) after occupying the cellar of the standings for the first three months of the season has lifted with the levity and respect interim head coach Doug Weight has brought since taking over for the fired Jack Capuano on Jan. 17.
“This can’t be it for us. It has to be an April-May mentality,” Weight said, his team now 9-3-2 since he took over and one point out of the second wild-card spot behind the Maple Leafs. “The response was awesome.”
Despite their superiority in the standings — as well as in pedigree and expectations — the Rangers (37-19-1) continue to be their punching bag, as the Brooklyn Boys have taken all four games played here on Atlantic Avenue since moving in last season. That includes the previous contest Dec. 6, as well as five of the previous six between these two newly urban rivals.
“If you don’t have a deep effort against the New York Rangers, you’re not going to beat them,” Weight said. “They’re too good. They’re deep, well-coached, good goalie. They’re a solid team. If you can’t roll lines out, you can’t match against every line. You have to have guys playing out of their comfort zone a little bit.
“And hopefully that proves to them that we’re a pretty damn good team.”
That hasn’t been said a lot about the Islanders this season, but it has been seen a lot since Weight took over. They overmatched the Rangers with intensity, and the Islanders’ emotion still didn’t boil over, not even when Weight himself was losing his mind behind the bench after losing a challenge on what he thought was a goalie interference call on Rick Nash.
Instead, it was a Jimmy Vesey power-play goal that cut the Islanders’ lead to 3-2 just 3:46 into the third period. Asked how he controlled his emotions Weight could only smile.
“I didn’t,” he said. “But I get back to Earth quick. … It’s not a blackand-white rule, so we can agree to disagree and then move on. You have to win a game.
“I’ve been married 20 years. I’m wrong, you’re right.”
The Rangers had started that period with 3:52 of man-advantage time, but Islanders captain John Tavares set up a sweet shorthanded goal by Nikolay Kulemin to give his team a 3-1 edge just 3:03 into the period. It proved to be a big one, as goalie Thomas Greiss managed to keep the Rangers at bay over the final few moments and Andrew Ladd got his second of the game and his 14th of the season into the empty net to make it 4-2.
“We’re playing meaningful hockey,” said Ladd, who had beat Henrik Lundqvist (19 saves) at 6:24 of the second period to give his team a 2-1 lead going into the third, offsetting earlier goals from Nick Holden and Anders Lee. “We’ve put ourselves back in a position where the games mean as much as they do. As players, these games are fun to play in.”
So it goes in the Eastern Conference, where things can change so quickly — and the prime example of that resides in Brooklyn.
“You see how tight the East is, and it’s amazing how much can change in two, three days,” Tavares said. “It’s coming to a point now where we made all these games meaningful. As they go, they just get more and more important.”
OWNER’S MANUAL: Andrew Ladd, celebrating his second-period goal Thursday against Henrik Lundqvist, and the Islanders took down Rick Nash (inset) and the Rangers for a 4-2 win, as the Blueshirts remained winless in four games at Barclays Center.