This wasn’t so much about the offensive zone, defensive zone or even the neutral zone. This was about the comfort zone the Rangers were never permitted to reach by the Islanders in this first Battle of New York at the Coliseum in nearly five years.
There was little open ice and no time to make plays in a 3-2 Rangers win that was contested in tight spaces, in front of both nets — well, Alex Georgiev’s, for the most part — and along the boards and in the corners.
Indeed, following the track meet Monday at the Garden in which the Blueshirts prevailed 6-2 in the first half of the set, this one was played on the Islanders’ terms.
This one was won by the Rangers.
“These are the games we’ve been losing,” Chris Kreider said after scoring a power-play goal on a rebound at 19:35 of the third period to lift his team to a pulsating victory in front of a charged crowd in an amped-up building. “They contained us, they didn’t allow us to get into open ice, make plays and tilt the ice the way we like to do, and so in that circumstance, you have to be able to dumb it down and keep it simple.
“That’s what we were able to do. Guys chipped it, won the battles and the second battles. They forced us to play a heavier game. Alex kept us in it and we responded.”
The Rangers are buying in, even if they did surrender 22 shots in the first period, in which Georgiev was outstanding and was beaten just once by Josh Bailey after a breakdown at 19:09. That’s two straight for Georgiev, who in stopping 70 of 74 shots in this two-game sweep both increased his value on the market and to the Rangers, all at once.
“There’s been a little talk about the deadline every once in a while, and as it gets closer, it will heat up. It does every year no matter what type of situation the team is in,” Marc Staal told The Post. “But the guys who have been the major subjects of rumors, they’ve been great for us.”
That would be Georgiev, and that would be Kreider. And this isn’t going to be easy at all for the front office approaching Feb. 24. Now, or the future? Now, or maybe never?
The Rangers have won four of their past five and are six points out of a playoff spot. They’re beginning to play with authority and a swagger. They’re beginning to resemble a unit.
“We’re paying more attention to what we need to do to create our identity,” said Staal, who had another strong game in a season of revival. “We’ve got some very talented guys who like to make plays, but when [the Islanders] shut that down, we were able to find a different way and that’s really encouraging.
“It’s great to win on talent, it’s great to win any way, but when you win a game by working hard and getting in the battle, it’s a really good feeling. It feels better.”
The Islanders sicced the Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Leo Komarov checking trio on the Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome-Jesper Fast trio, and it wasn’t pretty for the Rangers. Panarin was marked closely, Strome was badgered and the Blueshirts’ dazzle was dampened. Panarin didn’t get his first shot on goal until midway through the third period.
“It was a harder game to play,” Staal said. “There was a price to pay and we were willing to pay it.”
The Rangers tied the score at 12:46 of the second when Mika Zibanejad recorded a power-play goal that sneaked over the line and wasn’t awarded until a video review confirmed it after over a minute more had been played. Tony DeAngelo gave his team a 2-1 lead at 4:16 of the third, driving one short-side past Semyon Varlamov after picking up the puck as he exited the penalty box.
But the Islanders tied it 2-2 when Anthony Beauvillier beat Georgiev at 12:40. The game wound down and was on its way to overtime when Derick Brassard committed a mindless cross-check on Fast at 19:06. Less than a half-minute later, the power play struck again, the Blueshirts now 10-for-29 with the man advantage over the past 10 games.
It is becoming a lethal weapon.
So much of this season is about the future. The Rangers, however, are doing as much as they can to make it about the present.
“We’re on the same page. We’re committed,” Staal said. “We’re all in this together.”
For more on the Rangers, listen to the latest episode of the “Up In The Blue Seats” podcast:
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