Dean Martin once crooned "Baby, it's cold outside," and none of the 50,000+ that were on hand at Yankee Stadium would be inclined to disagree.
The New York Rangers dispatched the New York Islanders 2-1 with temperatures hovering in the teens, and a wind chill factor making it feel like single digits at the Big Ballpar–make that Ice Rink–in the Bronx. Henrik Lundqvist made 30 saves, out-dueling Evgeni Nabokov, Benoit Pouliot made sure the Blueshirts didn't trail for long, and Dan Carcillo–playing the unfamiliar role of hero–put home the game winner on a rebound early in the third. The victory gives the Rangers a sweep of the Stadium Series.
If anyone thinks the elements don't play a role in these outdoor games, take a long look at what can only be described as a dreary first period. Maybe the player's extremities were frozen, or maybe they–like the crowd–showed up a little late. More likely, it was the fact that with the temperature so low, the puck became hard as a rock, and insisted on bouncing all over the ice like a Mexican jumping bean.
"The puck was bouncing, quite a bit for both teams," said Alain Vigneault. "It made it challenging to make plays with the puck."
Whatever the cause, after accomplishing very little in the first, both teams came out more determined to get pucks deep in the second, and gave the frigid 50,000 a much better show the rest of the way.
The Islanders had the better of the play in the first half of the second, but Lundqvist, whose pregame nap apparently went uninterrupted this time around, was able to hold the fort. But despite The King's best efforts, it was the Isles who ultimately struck first, when a wide open Brock Nelson buried a pretty touch pass from Matt Donovan at 18:33.
That lead would be short lived, however. On the ensuing shift, Mats Zuccarello missed wide on a shot, which took a strong bounce off the end boards to Derick Brassard. Standing at the side of the net, Brassard attempted to bank it in off a prone Nabokov–it didn't happen, but the next best possible outcome did–Brassard's attempt hit Benoit Pouliot in the chest, and like a third baseman knocking down a liner, the winger pounced on the puck to tie it up just 40 seconds after the Isles had seized the lead.
From that point forward, it was a one-sided affair. Dan Carcillo scored his second as a Ranger 4:36 into the final frame, when the puck squirted through the carnage in front of Nabokov's cage and onto his stick. Save for a chaotic final sequence, the Blueshirts gave the Islanders very little in the third–outshooting the future Brooklynites 14-6. Were it not for the heroics of Nabokov, who made several big saves on quality chances, the margin of victory could've been more.
With the win, the Blueshirts improve to 29-23-3–good for 61 points, three more than third-place Philadelphia–and Lundqvist gets his personal record over .500 for the first time all year (19-18-3). The Rangers kept the Islanders vaunted top unit of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Thomas Vanek relatively in check–refusing to let them put on a clinic as they had the last time the two teams met–and limited the Isles ability to create off the rush–or maybe the conditions did. Either way.
"We talked about going into this game, how good they are in their transition game," said Henrik Lundqvist. "We didn't give them that part of their game, because that's where they can hurt you. The last couple of games we played them, we really paid a price for turnovers."
The victory, coupled with Sunday's 7-3 triumph over New Jersey, allows the Rangers to look back on the two outdoor games fondly. Lundqvist said:
"It was just an amazing feeling to be out here again. And I thought about it during the game. You really have to grab this opportunity and enjoy it. You don't know if you're gonna be part of something like this again. You wanna win the game so you have a great memory."
Lundqvist now has three "great memories," dating back to 2012. This is, after all, a kids game, and it's clear the 40 big kids out there on the ice truly do love taking it outside every once and while. The spectacle is a beautiful reminder of the games roots–hockey in it's purest form–and undoubtedly helps to break up the monotony of an 82 game season.
But now for the Rangers, fun time is over. It's back to business Friday, against an Islanders team that might not be in such a festive mood.
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- Game Preview: New York Rangers Vs. Philadelphia Flyers
- The Dreaded Letdown Game: New York Rangers’ Forecheck Snowed in by Isles, Fall 5-3
- New York Rangers Blitz Flyers Early, Henrik Lundqvist Stellar Late in 4-1 Win
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