Carl Hagelin scored two goals and Marian Gaborik scored his NHL-leading 22nd goal of the season, while Henrik Lundqvist notched his third shutout of the season as the New York Rangers took over the Eastern Conference lead by defeating the New York Islanders for the second time in the last week, this time by a count of 3-0.
The Rangers have had gotten the better of their crosstown rivals, having won the last three meetings after losing the first early in the campaign.
The two clubs are heading in absolute opposite directions, with the Broadway Blueshirts leap-frogging over the idle Boston Bruins for the conference lead on the strength of a fifth consecutive victory, while the Islanders continued a devastating tail spin. The Isles have dropped their last three contests and are now just 2-6-1 in their last nine, falling below the Carolina Hurricanes for the 15th slot in the conference with 28 points.
There was no doubting the Rangers' game plan, as they played the Islanders' top scorers very physical from the opening faceoff. In the first period, Joe Girardi took a kneeing minor on John Tavares, and hulking, 6' 7", 244-pound forward Brian Boyle delivered a hard, clean check on Matt Moulson along the boards.
Isles' starter Evgeni Nabokov made some huge saves in the opening period to keep his team in the game. He kicked the right pad out to stop a Derek Stepan shot from the top of the right circle, and kept the game scoreless on a late Rangers' flurry at the end of the period, with the puck ending up in his armpit about half a foot from the goal line when the siren sounded to signify the end of the first.
The first goal of the night wouldn't come until the 5:14 mark of the second period, when Michael Del Zotto made a beautiful toe drag move around Islander forward Frans Nielsen, then got a good shot off on Nabokov. The goaltender made the initial save, but Ryan Callahan gathered the rebound and jammed it off the goalie, with the puck bouncing to Hagelin at the far post. With a gaping side of the net staring at him, Hagelin banked a shot into the net off of Nabokov's skate to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
The Blueshirts would double their lead early in the third period. With the Isles in the middle of a line change, Del Zotto picked up a loose puck at center ice and quickly carried it into the Islanders' zone along the left wing. The defenseman flipped a drop pass to Callahan, then the pair executed a perfect give and go with Del Zotto receiving the return pass to Nabokov's right. The defender spotted Hagelin in the slot and hit him with a pass right on the tape, and the winger snapped a one-timer past a screened Nabokov for his second of the night and sixth of the season at 6:32 of the final frame.
Del Zotto had two assists for the night and now has 21 points in 34 games. This comes after he scored just two goals and picking up 11 points in 47 games last year in a campaign which included a trip to the AHL. He was also plus-3 for the night, improving his rating to plus-25 for the campaign, which ties him with the Bruins' Brad Marchand for second overall -- just one behind Boston's Tyler Seguin's plus-26.
Facing a 2-0 deficit late in regulation time, head coach Jack Capuano decided to pull Nabokov in favor of an extra attacker. The ploy seemed to rejuvenate the Isles' offense as they came up with several excellent scoring chances, but Lundqvist was equal to the task.
After defenseman Anton Stralman cleared the puck out of the Rangers' zone, Gaborik turned on the jets and beat the Islanders' to the puck and hot the empty net. Gaborik is enjoying a fantastic comeback season and has already matched his goal total from 2010-11 In just 34 games this season, which was posted in 62 games last year. He now has goals in five consecutive games, notching seven during the streak, and has tallied 12 times in the last 14 games.
Lundqvist stopped all 28 shots in improving his record to 15-7-4, while lowering his goals-against average to 1.95, and lifting his save percentage to .936.
Nabokov was able to stop 28 of 30 Blueshirts' offerings, but saw his record drop to 2-8-0 on the year.