Six points separated the Rangers and Islanders in the tight Eastern Conference wild-card standings coming into Tuesday.
By the end of the night, after the season’s final chapter of the rivalry, the Rangers had cut it down to five in most dramatic fashion.
The post-trade-deadline playoff race is officially on.
The Rangers entered an electric environment at the Coliseum and survived with a fourth straight win, 4-3, after Mika Zibanejad’s overtime strike.
Brock Nelson had forced overtime when he scored with 17.9 seconds left in regulation, sending the Coliseum into a frenzy. The Islanders had an extra attacker after pulling goalie Semyon Varlamov with under two minutes to go.
A day after the trade deadline passed — with the Rangers holding on to Chris Kreider, signing him long term, and trading Brady Skjei to Carolina — they got back to business and continued to surge up the standings behind the Islanders. The Rangers won for the 11th time in their past 14 games, now with 20 games left.
Alexandar Georgiev, stepping in for the injured rookie Igor Shesterkin (rib fracture), made 42 saves in the win.
The Rangers, who won an eighth consecutive road game for the first time in franchise history, took a 2-1 lead into the third period and extended it to 3-1 on a goal credited to Brendan Smith, who took Skjei’s spot on the blue line.
It proved critical when Jordan Eberle scored on the Islanders’ power play to make it 3-2 with 5:37 left in regulation.
The Coliseum was buzzing before the puck even dropped and early on it was the Islanders who played up to the atmosphere. They were flying all over the ice, generating the majority of the scoring chances and controlling the possession. They led 12-3 in shots early but had nothing to show for it.
Instead, it was the Rangers who struck first, shortly after killing off a penalty. Ryan Lindgren took a pass and charged toward the net, drawing all the Islanders’ eyes. But Lindgren saw Artemi Panarin open on the other wing and sent a sharp cross-ice pass to the Rangers’ star, who flung the puck past Varlamov for the 1-0 lead at 17:02 of the first period.
The goal was Panarin’s 32nd of the year, setting a new career-high. The Russian has seemed to enjoy playing against the team he turned down last summer to play for the Rangers instead. In the rivalry’s first three meetings before Tuesday, Panarin had tallied two goals and four assists.
Georgiev was responsible for making sure the Rangers took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, turning away all 15 shots that came his way through the first 20 minutes and staying calm through an early siege.
The Islanders came flying at Georgiev again to start the second period but again he stood tall before the Rangers capitalized on the other end.
Adam Fox set up the Rangers’ second goal, skating around the offensive zone before dishing a pass to Brendan Lemieux for a one-timer. Lemieux didn’t get all of it, but it was enough to find a way through with help from a Greg McKegg deflection in front to go up 2-0 at 7:48.
But Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Islanders’ trade-deadline prize, cut the lead in half late in the second period. Ryan Pulock fired a hard slap shot high of the net, but the deflection came all the way back out in front. While Georgiev looked the other way for the puck, Pageau came in behind him, caught the rebound and tucked it home to make it 2-1 at 17:04.
Pageau later took an instigator penalty and 10-minute misconduct in the third period sticking up for his new linemate after Jacob Trouba delivered a crushing hit on Michael Dal Colle. Pageau immediately dropped the gloves to fight Trouba.