If Rangers head coach John Tortorella was looking for motivation for his club, he found it watching the Pittsburgh Penguins pull within two points of the Atlantic Division lead this afternoon. If the threat of their lead slipping away was to give them extra energy, the Islanders seemed to have an equal desire to play spolier against their rich cousins as they came into Madison Square Garden.
Stu Bickel and Michael Haley engaged in an early tilt, but the early inspiration for the Rangers could not help them to put the puck past Evgeni Nabokov. Henrik Lundqvist was faced with less work, only seeing five shots in the first period, but John Tavares made one of them count just past the middle of the first period. Racing up ice after a sprawling save by Nabokov, P.A. Parenteau broke through the Rangers defense and get the puck to the net. Tavares cleaned up the rebound when Lundqvist missed the chance to snag the loose puck, putting it into the net.
The goal required review to make sure it was not kicked in, but it was upheld as a good goal to open the early lead.
The Rangers responded thanks to a late penalty to Tavares, who was called for a hook with a minute and a half in regulation. Brad Richards made an end to end rush from the back of his own zone and through the Islander defense before unleashing a vicious wrist shot through Nabokov's legs just 10 seconds into the power play.
Taking the ice for the second period, the Rangers were hamstrung by a controversial high sticking double minor to forward Derek Stepan. Tortorella argued the call, but to no avail. Adding insult to injury, the team killed all but 20 seconds of the four-minute penalty when Matt Moulson collected a bounce off the glass and then fired the puck at Lundqvist from the goal line, caroming it off the Swedish goaltender's skate.
The Rangers responded once again with a power play of their own, and it was Brad Richards scoring his second goal of the night, this time working the point for the power play unit. Working the puck along the length of the blue line, the broadway sniper found a perfect seam, unleashing a hard shot from the boards while Brian Boyle set a screen.
The Rangers seemed ready to capitalize on the tied game, particularly when Andrew MacDonald was called for hooking shortly after the Richards goal, but the Islanders PK not only successfully worked off the defense, but were able to spring MacDonald on a breakaway with just over 30 seconds left in the period. One on one with Lundqvist, MacDonald showed great patience as he attacked, finally forcing Lundqvist to anticipate a move and beating him with a clean shot.
Burning with frustration, the Rangers came out to start the third period by battering Nabokov and the Islander defense, equalizing early when Brian Boyle redirected a Ryan McDonagh shot from the top of the crease.
Despite being outshot 34-18 in regulation by the Rangers, Nabokov kept his team in the fight through regulation and into the first half of overtime, but the game turned when Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic was called for a trip on Brad Richards with just over two minutes left in the period.
The Rangers moved the puck, looking for their opportunity, keeping constant pressure on the Islanders before Brad Richards sent a quick cross-ice pass to Marian Gaborik, and the Slovakian scored his 33rd goal of the season with just six seconds left on the clock.
The win provides a much-needed two points to the Rangers' cushion atop both the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division and ended a three-game losing skid.