Both teams were coming off a five-day bye week, but only one of them remembered that it had ended.
After coinciding league-mandated breaks, the Islanders absolutely took it to the Rangers, handily beating them 7-2 on Saturday afternoon at the Garden. It was also a dazzling show from young Isles center Mathew Barzal, who took the rookie scoring lead when he had two goals and two assists.
The Rangers (22-16-5) had been hoping to rectify their slow starts, but they were quickly behind and then gave up three goals in the first seven minutes of the second period to go down, 5-1. That is what got goalie Ondrej Pavelec pulled, having given up five goals on 20 shots, replaced by Henrik Lundqvist with 13:09 left in the second period.
Lundqvist was presumably going to start the second leg of this back-to-back, Sunday night in Pittsburgh — and that is still likely the case. But he voiced his displeasure with the team by letting out a few stern words before taking the net.
The Islanders (22-18-4) had come in on a stretch of 6-11-2 over their previous 19 games, including losing five-of-seven since Christmas. They were without All-Star winger Josh Bailey (lower body), as well as regulars Andrew Ladd and Johnny Boychuk. They missed all three players in their previous game before the break, which was one of their better performances in a while, a 5-4 shootout win over the Devils in Newark this past Sunday.
Yet by the time the third period started, some stellar play by goalie Jaroslav Halak to go along with the brilliance of Barzal had carried them to that four-goal advantage. The two goals and one assist Barzal had through the opening 24:11 of the game gave him 42 points and the rookie lead, while he was supplemented by another rookie, Anthony Beauvillier, who was just called up from AHL Bridgeport and scored twice in the first two periods, as well.
The third period started with little life for the Rangers, but they did get a nice deflection goal from Mika Zibanejad at 9:05, cutting the deficit to 5-2. But with 3:54 remaining in regulation, Isles defenseman Thomas Hickey threw a backhand to the net that deflected off Mats Zuccarello’s leg and in, making it 6-2 and summing up what was real stinker for the Blueshirts.
One last bit of indignation came when Cal Clutterbuck scored with 1:05 left, making it 7-2. Barzal picked up his second assist of the game and his 29th assist of the season.
The game started with Beauvillier getting the Islanders on the board when he beat Pavelec short side at 6:06 of the first. Kevin Hayes tied it on a power-play goal for the Rangers at 14:25, as the center was able to play after being questionable with a lower-body injury.
But Shane Prince gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead before the end of the first, and then they came out on fire to start the second. That’s when Barzal score his first on a rush off the right wall and then a jaw-dropping backhand that found the top corner just 37 seconds in. He then got his 15th of the season when he finished his own rebound on another Islanders odd-man rush at 4:11, making it 4-1.
Beauvillier got his second of the game (and seventh of the season) when he beat Pavelec on an open shot from the left circle at 6:51. The boos were raining down on the Blueshirts as Lundqvist was summoned, and the mood wasn’t much different on the bench.