UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The New York Rangers have a tough time figuring out how the New York Islanders could have lost 14 straight games. The way the Islanders take on their biggest rivals suggests they are anything but the NHL’s worst team.
Marian Gaborik had three goals and an assist in his first game with Sean Avery as a linemate, and Henrik Lundqvist made nine saves in relief of backup Martin Biron to lift the Rangers to a 6-5 victory over the Islanders on Thursday night.
The Rangers pulled out this seesaw contest after losing on Long Island 6-4 on Oct. 11 in the second game of the season.
“I guess that’s just what happens in this building,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “Earlier this year, we were on the losing end, so trying to take a positive out of it, we won a game.”
Tortorella had a big hand in that. He moved Avery up to the top line alongside Gaborik and Erik Christensen and dropped Alex Frolov to the fourth line. Avery had three assists, and Christensen added a goal and an assist.
That was enough to give the Rangers their fifth win in seven games, despite blowing a pair of two-goal leads.
“He just creates the play so well and he gets open. When he gets open it’s easy to get him the puck,” Avery said about Gaborik. “The guy is one of the best goal scorers in the world. It’s certainly a fun thing to get to play with him.”
The Islanders, playing for the first time since snapping a 14-game losing streak (0-11-3) on Friday, couldn’t make it two in a row in the opener of a home-and-home series with the Rangers.
It was Gaborik’s second hat trick of the season and 12th in the NHL. His third goal of the night gave the Rangers a 6-5 lead with 5:25 remaining after Michael Grabner and Blake Comeau scored 1:41 apart to get the Islanders even.
“They were able to bury a few, but we’ve got Gabby so …” Christensen said.
Ryan Callahan and Brandon Prust also scored for the Rangers.
Gaborik has four goals in two games after being sick. He has eight goals in 14 this games this season, in which he also had a shoulder injury. He gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead with a power-play goal with 3:36 left in the second and stretched the advantage to 5-3 at 3:31 of the third off a backhand pass from Avery.
“Hopefully we can build on this,” Gaborik said. “We just have to make sure we don’t give them as much as we did in the second and third periods.”
Zenon Konopka scored for the first time in nearly a year, and Matt Moulson and Rob Schremp added goals for the Islanders (5-13-5). Rick DiPietro, making his fourth straight start, stopped 20 shots. He ended the Islanders’ losing streak with a shutout of New Jersey.
Grabner made it 5-4 with 7:31 left.
“It’s brutal,” DiPietro said. “Every time we sized the momentum, there was a breakdown and they capitalized on it.”
Lundqvist’s night off didn’t last long as he was called upon to bail out Biron when the Islanders grabbed a 3-2 lead with 7:30 left in the second on Schremp’s goal. Lundqvist faced only one shot in the period. Tortorella said Biron didn’t look sharp, and added he thought his team was lethargic and needed a spark.
The Islanders began their first comeback when Konopka snapped his long scoring drought with 48.6 seconds remaining in the first. It was Konopka’s first goal in 57 games, dating to Jan. 2 when he was with Tampa Bay.
John Tavares made a crisp, behind-the-back backhanded pass from the left wing boards to Moulson, near the right post. With Biron out of position, Moulson calmly lifted a shot past him to make it 2-2 at 9:18.
The onslaught continued just over three minutes later when Schremp put the Islanders ahead and ended Biron’s night. Biron, who played last season with the Islanders, allowed three goals on 21 shots.
Avery played a strong overall game. He had a prime chance off a pass from Gaborik less than two minutes in, but DiPietro smothered his one-timed shot—leaving Avery shaking his arms in frustration.
The noted agitator got onto the score sheet with 8:11 left in the first period, assisting on Christensen’s goal.
The Rangers doubled their lead during a delayed-penalty call after Islanders defenceman Radek Martinek dumped rookie forward Derek Stepan. Brandon Dubinsky gathered the loose puck and quickly moved it to Callahan for a goal with 2:53 left in the first.
“There are no excuses,” Tavares said. “There are too many lapses right now and it’s costing us.”
NOTES: Konopka has seven goals in 136 NHL games. … The Rangers are 13-4-1 when they score first. … The Islanders went 0 for 1 on the power play and have failed in 30 straight advantages over nine games. … Islanders D Andrew MacDonald returned after missing 15 games with a broken hand. … The Rangers (15-11-1) have 10 road wins.