Islanders’ big 1st period sparks 4-2 victory over Rangers to strengthen playoff standing

New York Islanders’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) celebrates with teammates after a goal by Anders Lee during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

ELMONT, N.Y. — Three first-period goals from Mike Reilly, Bo Horvat, and Kyle Palmieri were just enough to lift the New York Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at UBS Arena. 

Scoring all three in the span of 9:26, it’s a vital two points for the Islanders (36-27-15) to further strengthen their standing at third place in the Metropolitan Division, ensuring they stay two points ahead of the Washington Capitals, who defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 earlier on Tuesday night.

“This is the type of hockey you want to be playing at this time of year,” Horvat said. “[The Rangers are] a great team. They’re a rival here and I’m a New York Islander. I’m supposed to hate them. It’s always fun playing against them but it always feels way better when we get the win.”

Semyon Varlamov, who has taken the No. 1 goalie responsibilities for the time being from Ilya Sorokin, made 34 saves to outduel Igor Shesterkin, who stopped 25.

The Rangers’ (52-22-4) wait to clinch the Metropolitan Division will have to wait at least a few more days. They needed a victory and a Carolina Hurricanes loss to clinch.

A pair of power-play goals in the second period got them back to within touching distance, but could not beat Varlamov in a third period in which they outshot the Islanders 15-4. Instead, Anders Lee put the icing on the cake with 5.8 seconds to go with an empty-net goal.

“It was just relief,” Varlamov said. “You don’t want to give anything up at the end. 4-2 is a lot better than 3-2.”

Islanders star  Mathew Barzal was awarded a penalty shot just 1:25 into the game when Adam Fox hooked him on a breakaway. He tried to beat Shesterkin through the five-hole on his attempt, but the Rangers’ netminder was able to turn it away with the left pad. 

Less than three minutes later, though, at the 4:12 mark of the first, Reilly put the Islanders in front. Off a face-off, he went down the left wall and slid a shot that Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren deflected past Shesterkin.

Horvat doubled the Islanders’ lead with 8:13 to go in the first when he deflected a Noah Dobson shot home for his 33rd goal of the season and his fourth in five games. It appeared as though his teammate, Casey Cizikas got a touch after Horvat’s deflection, but Cizikas said he never touched it.

“As soon as I saw Dobber had a lane, I was just trying to get there. I thought Zeeker touched it at first. I yelled at him, ‘double tip’ and he said he didn’t touch it. I was like ‘alright, I guess I’ll lead the train in,’ but he’s so good at going to the net and creating screens.”

For Dobson, it was his second assist of the period and his 60th of the season, becoming just the second Islander defenseman ever (Denis Potvin) to reach that mark.

Just 1:51 later, Palmieri stuffed a loose puck in the crease home to put the Islanders up three.  

The Islanders’ lack of discipline which featured three second-period penalties to put stress on the league’s worst penalty kill cracked the door open for the Rangers, who promptly took advantage to get right back into the game.

Following a Reilly interference penalty, Kreider got the Rangers on the board 7:47 into the second period when he deflected a shot from Artemi Panarin past Varlamov. It was Panarin’s 70th assist, making him just the second Ranger ever (Brian Leetch) with multiple 70-assist seasons.

With 8:44 left in the period, Robert Bortuzzo went off for a trip, which the Islanders managed to kill off, but Dobson went to the box seconds later for a delay-of-game penalty. With 5:01 to go in the frame, Fox snuck a wrister through traffic that beat Varlamov to bring the Rangers within one. 

“I think we owned the game,” Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette said. “The puck was on our stick the entire second and third period.. our guys kept fighting and battling to the end.”

Varlamov’s busy second and third periods extended his shutout streak in 5-on-5 play to two games following a 41-save shutout on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. 

“Those were tough periods,” Varlamov. “We came out and played really strong in the first. We were unbelievable. Then all of a sudden, we start spending a lot of time in our D-zone and give them momentum.”

The third period also saw Rangers star forward Mika Zibanejad leave the game after what appeared to be an accidental collision with Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech. 

Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette described the hit as “vicious,” and believed it was intentional while Islanders head coach Patrick Roy implored that it was incidental contact.

For more on the Islanders and Rangers, visit AMNY.com