The first meeting between old rivals in the fresh setting of Brooklyn's Barclays Center delivered on the hype. The Rangers and Islanders attacked Wednesday's inaugural Battle of the Boroughs with playoff-worthy intensity, and while it wasn't always pretty the result was an energetic and action-packed gem that required overtime and a shootout before the hometown Islanders came away with a 2–1 win.
Some quick thoughts on the new look for an old rivalry:
• The Rangers have succeeded almost in spite of themselves this season, relying heavily on a string of Vezina-caliber performances from Henrik Lundqvist to compensate for inconsistent defensive-zone coverage and a frustrating propensity for coughing the puck up in dangerous areas.
They certainly weren't perfect Wednesday, especially on the penalty kill breakdown that allowed John Tavares to skate in on Lundqvist untouched for the Islanders' only goal in regulation. But taken as a whole, the Blueshirts delivered a more disciplined and structured effort than any time I've seen them this season.
It helped that they spent a good part of the game's first half in the offensive zone, controlling possession and keeping the Isles on their heels. But even as the hosts slowly reeled it back in, the Rangers responded with smart positioning (20 blocks on the night) and excellent decision making. There's no questioning the effort or the execution after this one.
Coach Alain Vigneault might want to keep the film handy. When this team needs a reminder of what they can be when they're at their best, this will be the game to show them.
• Tavares had a glorious chance to win the game in OT, coming out of the box after serving a bench minor only to be stoned by Lundqvist. He was at his best in this one, ramping up his intensity to deliver a playoff-caliber performance. I was asked the other day if Team Canada might suffer at the upcoming World Cup if Sidney Crosby can't find his game. The way JT is going, that won't be a problem.
• I know how tough Rangers fans are on Tanner Glass, but I thought he was really solid tonight. He skated hard, was physical with five hits and landed three shots on net. Sure, he sailed his best chance of the night wide, but offense is gravy from a player like this. Vigneault had him in the lineup to bring some energy and he delivered in a big way.
• Hard to figure the decision by Vigneault to send Dan Boyle out for the first 1:32 of New York's overtime power play opportunity. Keith Yandle was having a very effective night and while he was coming off a 23 second shift at the time of the Islanders’ too many men on the ice call, he would have been a better option to at least start the man advantage. The Rangers landed three shots on net during that stretch, but none of them were from closer than 45 feet and none were particularly challenging for Halak. If Yandle is quarterbacking from the point, maybe they create something down closer to the net.
• That final, failed shootout attempt by Boyle is one people will be talking about for awhile. The aging defender almost walked the puck in, taking nearly seven seconds from the time he picked it up at center ice before ending his slow-motion bid by bobbling his shot attempt to the left of Jaroslav Halak. It looked awful–Halak's bemused reaction after the attempt was priceless–but the fact is, it almost worked.
• The NBC crew mentioned that Halak is now 7–0 in his last seven head-to-head meetings with Lundqvist, and he was full value for the win tonight. He made 33 saves on the night, including a perfect 9/9 on the penalty kill, to earn Second Star honors. If it wasn't his best performance of the season, it was certainly one of his most economical. His positioning was on point and he did an excellent job of controlling his rebounds. He needed to be sharp early on as the Rangers dominated, and his confident play eventually carried over to his teammates.
• Ryan Strome was guilty of the bad change that led to that Rangers OT power play, but he turned in the sort of effort that suggests he won't be going back to AHL Bridgeport any time soon. He wasn't used heavily, just over 12 minutes, but was quick to the puck, used his body effectively and displayed an intensity that was missing from his game leading up to his demotion.