Round 1 went to the Rangers in an absolute knockout.
Artemi Panarin put on a clinic, recording two goals and three assists as the Rangers blew out the crosstown-rival Islanders 6-2 in their first meeting of the season on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. It was the first of three matchups in the next eight days between the two teams.
Panarin — who spurned the Islanders in the offseason to sign with the Rangers — assisted on the Rangers’ first three goals of the night before beating Semyon Varlamov twice in the third period.
“I was just trying to find an answer for Panarin’s line,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “He could have had eight points with the chances they were creating. I just didn’t have an answer for it.”
His five-point night upped his stellar season total to 26 goals and 41 assists for 67 points in 45 games.
“Nothing new, playing the same as I was before,” Panarin said trying to explain his brilliant start. “Just trying to play each game 100-percent and seeing how it goes.”
Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev continued his strong track record against the Islanders, improving to 3-1-0 in his career against them in a 32-save effort.
He was beaten on his very first shot faced on the night, however, as Jordan Eberle got the Islanders on the board 18 seconds into his 700th career game when he weaved in uncovered on Georgiev, outwaited the Rangers keeper, and slid a backhander into the back of the net.
It was the third-fastest goal to start a game in the rivalry’s history.
“This happens,” Panarin said. “We’re all professionals. We just try to brush it off and continue to play the game.
Skill made way for punches as a pair of fights in 10 seconds quickly followed Eberle’s goal.
Ross Johnson’s decisive victory over Michael Haley made way for a bout between Matt Martin and Brendan Smith with the latter combatants getting game misconducts.
That was when the momentum changed.
“You can’t underestimate what Smith and Haley do,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said. “We’re not an overly big team, but those guys mean an awful lot to us.”
The Rangers managed to scrap their way back into it when Jesper Fast managed to punch home a rebound from a Panarin shot that Varlamov had trouble with.
“The first goal I was trying to score,” Panarin admitted. “The other [assists], it was always [planned] that way.
Fast put together a three-point effort on Monday night, adding an assist in the second and third periods.
Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy protested the Rangers’ opener, claiming Fast slashed his stick out of his hands to get to the rebound. But his complaints fell upon deaf ears.
It was Varlamov’s lone blemish of a busy period that saw him face 17 Rangers shots while the Islanders could only muster seven.
“In terms of puck management, we were terrible,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “Their top guys were better than some of our top guys.”
The Rangers would snag a pair in the second period despite being outshot 16-8 to put the offensively challenged Islanders in a significant hole.
“We didn’t manage it well,” Trotz said. “We gave up way too many odd-man rushes… that’s on us. We have some guys that want to play differently than how we need to play against a team like this.”
Chris Kreider put the hosts ahead 5:05 into the second when he redirected a high wrister from Panarin past an unsuspecting Varlamov.
Six minutes later, Long Island native Adam Fox made it 3-1 for the Blueshirts, sniping a tough-angled wrister from the right-wing over Varlamov’s shoulder with helpers from Fast and Panarin.
The new Rangers’ star put his team up three 49 seconds into the third period when he beat Varlamov with a backhander on a breakaway.
Eight minutes later, he finished another breakaway opportunity past Varlamov to ensure the rout was on.
“The Islanders tried to score more in the third period but we bounced back and put more pressure on them,” Panarin said.
Trouba would add a sixth before Brock Nelson stole a second for the Islanders on the power play in the closing moments of the night.
“Our level of battle wasn’t where I expected it to be tonight,” Trotz said. “All that being said, I thought what we got what we deserved.”
The Islanders have a quick turnaround when they meet the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night while the Rangers can rest up for Round 2 of the rivalry Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum.