UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — In a season already filled with plenty of good fortune, Rick Nash and the New York Rangers found a little bit of luck in their last regular-season visit to the Nassau Coliseum.
Nash scored a deflected goal to break a tie 2:50 into the third period, and the Rangers beat the New York Islanders 2-1 on Tuesday night to inch closer to their biggest rival.
After dropping the first three matchups to the Islanders — including two at home — the Rangers have won two straight on Long Island. The previous meeting was a 6-5 victory in which the Rangers erased a pair of two-goal deficits after falling behind 11 seconds in.
“I thought it was a lot more tighter, obviously, than the last one,” Nash said. “Kind of playoff hockey.”
For the Rangers to come back to Long Island, it will have to be for the playoffs.
Kevin Hayes scored the tying goal in the second period, and Cam Talbot made 29 saves to improve to 11-2-3 since No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist went out with a neck injury.
Nash’s team-leading 39th goal was a shot from the right point that caromed in off Islanders forward Ryan Strome.
“It was a real lucky goal,” said Nash, five behind NHL-leading Alex Ovechkin of Washington. “I was thinking about dumping it, and then I saw I could get the blue line.
“I pulled up and I saw three of our guys going to the net. I just shot it anywhere in the direction of the net, and lucky enough it went in.”
The Rangers (41-17-7) are 2-0-1 in their past three games — all on the road — despite scoring only four goals. They trail the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders by one point, but have four games in hand.
The Rangers, who won 1-0 in overtime at Chicago on Sunday, will play at Washington on Wednesday.
Anders Lee gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead in the first period. Jaroslav Halak made 20 saves in his return to the net after Michal Neuvirth started the previous two. The Islanders (43-22-4) are 2-2-2 in their past six.
“A tough one to lose like this,” Halak said. “We have plenty of hockey left and we need to do a better job.”
Just as in previous matchups, the Islanders again got the jump on the Rangers early, despite playing an overtime game at Toronto on Monday.
“I thought we played better than them,” Halak said.
The Islanders got good news with the return of top-line forward Kyle Okposo, who missed 22 games because of eye surgery, but they were without defenseman Nick Leddy for the first time this season.
“We know we can be better,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. “There’s a lot of areas that we can be better in.”
The good start paid off at 9:35 when hard work around the crease and behind the net by Lee produced his 23rd goal. Lee put pressure on Talbot in the crease, followed the puck behind the net and outworked defenseman Dan Boyle for it. Lee then jammed the puck at the left post and pushed it between Talbot’s pads.
The Islanders held a 9-1 shots advantage at the time of the goal and finished the first period with a 13-7 edge.
“I thought our first period was a little slow,” Nash said. “They took it to us pretty good, but we have to give ourselves a little credit how we responded in the second and third.”
Hayes’ fine individual effort made it 1-1 with 8:25 left in the second.
Mats Zuccarello sent a crisp lead pass to Hayes, who took the puck in stride and drove to the net. He managed to shake off harassment from defenseman Thomas Hickey, made a spin move to get free and then swept a shot past Halak, who sprawled out on his stomach in a desperate attempt to deny Hayes’ 13th goal of the season.
“I wanted to fake backhand to see if he bit on it,” Hayes said. “The defenseman bit on it, and I stopped. He went by and I knew I was one-on-one with the goalie. I just faked one way and went the other.”
The Islanders had another surge in the second half of the second, but couldn’t solve Talbot. Josh Bailey had the best chance when he came in on a breakaway with 1:23 left in the frame, but his backhander was smothered by Talbot to keep it tied.
“I was just trying to stay patient,” Talbot said. “I think he just tried to open me up a little bit. He did, but luckily I had my stick there.”
NOTES: The Rangers are 54-63-8-2 on the road against the Islanders. … Leddy sat out because of an injury sustained during a 4-3 overtime win at Toronto on Monday. Leddy had played in 320 consecutive games, including 68 since joining the Islanders before this season. Brian Strait replaced him. … Michael Grabner was scratched in favor of Okposo. … Rangers C James Sheppard was scratched and replaced by LW Tanner Glass.
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