UNIONDALE, N.Y. – After playmakers on both sides of the New York-New York backyard brawl were stymied by goalies and goal posts, it was a defensive defenseman who finally broke through to end a playoff-like deadlock.
Dan Girardi gave the visiting Rangers a key 1-0 win Saturday night when he scored his second goal of the season 3:11 into overtime to knock off the Islanders at fired-up Nassau Coliseum.
With both teams on track for the postseason — although their holds on playoff spots are tenuous — Girardi took a lead pass from Derick Brassard, raced in on goalie Evgeni Nabokov, and beat him with a rising shot just when a shootout seemed inevitable.
"I drove to the net," said Girardi, who has 31 goals in seven NHL seasons. "He made a great pass. This says a lot about our team, the character of our team.
"The Islanders are a good team. They threw everything they could at us. We were very strong in front of the net."
Henrik Lundqvist and Islanders counterpart Nabokov staged a classic goalie duel that Girardi finished.
"You guys might have had fun watching it, but from a coach's point of view, there are a lot of things we need to work on," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
The Rangers are eighth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, one point behind the Islanders. The Rangers lead ninth-place Winnipeg by two points with seven games remaining — one more than the Jets. The Islanders have six games remaining, but only one more at home before they finish on a five-game trip they hope will end in their first playoff berth since 2007.
Lundqvist, last season's Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top goalie, finished with 29 saves for his first shutout of the season and 44th in the NHL.
Lundqvist skated the length of the ice after Girardi's goal to join in the celebration with his teammates at the other end.
"That was a long skate, but it was well worth it," he said. "They played hard. It was an exciting game to play in. It was fun, a lot of fun. Like a playoff game for sure.
"It was a relief and exciting to see the puck go in."
Nabokov stopped 19 shots in taking the tough-luck loss. While the Islanders wanted two points, getting one could go a long way toward giving them a return to the playoffs.
"It's tough to swallow that pill, to play the way we played and lose in overtime, but there's a lot of positives," he said. "Both teams were battling and I think both teams deserve a point.
"This was exactly a playoff game."
However, Tortorella disputed the notion that these teams currently have a rivalry.
"We need a good old-fashioned playoff series. That's when you create rivalries," he said. "Tonight's game brings a different intensity because we are close together in points. I don't buy the rivalry."
The Rangers are 5-1-1 in their last seven. The Islanders, who had won their previous three, are 8-1-2 in their last 11.
The Rangers started overtime with a minute left on a power play, created when Kyle Okposo slashed the stick out of Girardi's hands.
Before that, Islanders forward Colin McDonald struck the crossbar with a tough-angle shot 1:41 into the third — the latest in a slew of shots that were kept out by posts.
"Hank was our backbone," Tortorella said. "It was a game for him where there was a lot of bodies around — our bodies, their bodies — all around him. Pucks ricocheting all over the place, but he stood in there and gave us the opportunity."
The Rangers earned the first two power plays of the game — both in the second period — and the first nearly broke the deadlock, but Derek Stepan's drive clipped the left post and stayed out. A video review confirmed that the puck never crossed the line.
John Tavares got caught throwing a punch to the back of the head of Carl Hagelin, drawing a roughing penalty that had the young Islanders star slamming his stick as he entered the penalty box.
The Islanders were also thwarted by the post on a rebound attempt after Lundqvist got the edge of his right skate on a dangerous shot in front.
Lundqvist faced plenty of pressure and pucks right in front of his crease, and calmly stood up to everything the Islanders threw at him. The most dangerous stretch came when the Rangers were pinned in their own zone and couldn't get a line change.
Despite no goals, the Nassau Coliseum rocked through the frantic three periods.
The Islanders came out quickly, much to the delight of their sold-out crowd that spent much of the opening period alternating raucous chants of "Let's Go Islanders" with retorts of "Let's Go Rangers" from those who made the trip to Long Island to support the visitors.
"I've been here three years, and that's the loudest crowd I've heard," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "There was a lot of hype surrounding the game right from the start, and on the ice it was really loud. You could really feel the energy. It's unfortunate, because it would've been real nice to score a goal and hear the crowd erupt.
"It makes you want to get (to the playoffs). I'm sure it would be even crazier."
The Rangers were pinned in their own end for much of the first two shifts as the Islanders kept the pressure on without scoring. It took nearly 90 seconds for the Rangers to get the puck across the Islanders' blue line, but just seconds after they did they were back in their own end because of icing.
The pace was brisk after that, with both teams racing up and down the ice with a few scoring chances. Rick Nash was stopped by Nabokov on a wraparound try just over 4 minutes in, and Matt Moulson was turned aside with 4:24 remaining by Lundqvist's glove after he seemed to have an open net to shoot at following a rebound in the slot.
The Islanders finished the first with a 10-8 edge in shots and a 22-15 lead through 40 minutes.
NOTES: Girardi's only other goal this season also was against the Islanders, 27 games ago on Feb. 14. ... Islanders RW Brad Boyes played in his 600th NHL game. ... The Islanders have led or been tied or ahead in the third period in 36 of 42 games. They are 2-14-3 when scoring two goals or fewer. ... The Rangers were 0-for-4 on the power play. The Islanders went 0-for-2.