Islanders- Rangers Rivalry Continues To Intensify At MSG
NEW YORK- It started as a low murmur before a cacophony of groans and boos engulfed the arena. In the final seconds, the Islanders once again cut off shooting lanes and blocked shots.
When the puck slid out of the blue line and down towards the empty net, the Rangers' last comeback attempt was thwarted as the Isles held on for a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden.
Full-fledged jeers proceeded to rain down to the ice from the sold-out venue.
Very few Islanders' fans could be heard during the game, but soon the visiting contingent started "you can't beat us" chants on the way to the exits.
Despite owning the top mark in the Atlantic Division, the Rangers can't argue with that refrain. They are 0-3 against their cross-Midtown Tunnel rivals this season, thanks mostly to Rick DiPietro.
The Islanders trail the Blueshirts by three points for the top mark in the division, but have played four fewer games. DiPietro, who signed a groundbreaking 15-year contract before last season, is playing like a franchise cornerstone. The former No.1 overall draft pick earned his 100th career regular season victory on Monday night, helping the Isles improve to 11-6.
In a string of close games, DiPietro's kept his team competitive nearly every time. The 2-1 win marked the Isles' sixth-straight one-goal game. Coming off his second shutout of the season against the Devils last week, DiPietro once again outlasted counterpart Henrik Lundqvist. In the three wins against the Rangers this season, the 26-year-old has surrendered just four goals.
"It's a big road win," DiPietro said. "We were able to play a smart game tonight. It's always physical. Every time you come into this building, you expect it to be wild and back-andforth." DiPietro also helped his team improve to 8-1-2 against the Rangers in the past 11 contests. He owns 10 career victories against them, even if the left-handed goalie declined to celebrate his personal milestone. "It just means I've been in the league a couple of years," DiPietro said. "I'll just try and keep plugging away."
DiPietro's appeared in 16 games this season, going 10-5 with a 2.26 goalsagainst average. He is on pace to start 77 games, demonstrating coach Ted Nolan's confidence in the fifth-year NHL veteran.
"We're not going to blow anybody out," Nolan said. "Our game is doing simple things and being strong defensively. If we're strong defensively, we know we have a goaltender who can make the big save for us."
The Islanders blocked 18 shots in front of DiPietro. Brendan Witt and Radek Martinek helped minimize the Rangers' top line, limiting Jaromir Jagr to just one shot. While the Isles offense hasn't been scoring at record clips, Josef Vasicek scored his second game-winning goal in as many games.
The former Hurricane said a healthy knee is the reason for his fast start, though he credited his team's netminder for the victory.
"We have to give Ricky a lot of credit," Vasicek said. "He stood tall. He's given us confidence in our game."