The New York Rangers inched closer to the Eastern Conference lead with a showdown with their hated rival Philadelphia Flyers looming in a pre-Winter Classic matchup at MSG on Friday night.
Marian Gaborik scored his 20th goal of the season, Michael Del Zotto scored the eventual game-winning goal late in the second period, and goaltender Martin Biron made 24 saves as the New York Rangers defeated the New York Islanders, 4-2, Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
With their third win in a row, the Rangers pulled to within two points of the idle Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers, and hold a game in hand, setting up Friday night's pre-Winter Classic showdown.
Late in the opening period Brandon Dubinsky, in the throes of a 16-game goal-scoring slump, scored just his second goal of the season. Taking the puck behind his own net, the 25-year-old native of Anchorage, Alaska embarked on a length of the ice rush along the right wing boards. After getting past P.A. Parenteau at center ice and entering the Islanders' zone, Dubinsky took advantage of Mark Streit's decision to not play him aggressively. As Streit appeared to be looking for a possible pass and gave him room with which to operate, Dubinsky snapped a wrist shot from the right hash mark and past Evgeni Nabokov and inside the far goal post at 14:53 to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
The Islanders would strike back to tie the game early in the second period. With Ryan McDonagh still in the penalty box for carryover time of a late first period minor, Parenteau was able to knock the rebound of a Streit point shot past the outstretched right pad of Biron for a power play goal at the 18 second mark of the middle frame to make it a 1-1 score.
Biron was called upon to make a big save shortly thereafter, when he pushed across the crease to make a left pad stop on Michael Grabner's shot on a perfectly executed two on one Islanders' rush.
Artem Anisimov and Gaborik would team up to provide the Rangers with a lead several minutes later. Anisimov took a faceoff in the offensive left wing circle and won the draw cleanly. He sent the puck across the slot area, where Gaborik had beaten his man and gotten position in front of the Isles' net. Gaborik accepted the pass, and put a quick backhander past Nabokov for his 20th of the year and a 2-1 Blue Shirts' lead at the 7:52 mark of the second.
The Rangers added to their lead late in the stanza, when Brandon Prust's centering pass from the top of the right circle was deflected high in the air to the left wing side. Del Zotto stepped into a slap shot with the puck rolling on edge, blowing it past Nabokov from the top of the left circle for his fourth goal of the season to stake the Rangers to a 3-1 lead at 15:25.
In the third period, the Islanders were able to make it close. After a multiple player scuffle resulted in an extra minor being assessed to defender Stu Bickel, the Isles went to work with the man advantage. Matt Moulson beat Biron to the stick side and inside the post from short range for his 16th goal of the year at 8:29 of the third period to draw the Isles to within 3-2.
The goal was the second on the power play in three opportunities for the Islanders.
With time winding down in regulation, Jack Capuano decided to pull Nabokov with just over 1:30 remaining. As the goaltender was skating to the bench, the Isles turned the puck over at center ice. John Mitchell gathered up the puck, stepped up to the red line, and fired a shot into the vacated Islander cage. Mitchell's second of the year sealed the outcome, making it a 4-2 lead with 1:33 left.
Biron improved his record to 7-1-0, while Nabokov fell to 2-6-0.