Rangers thwart Islanders’ comeback with 5-3 opening night win

It will be quite a while before these Rangers have an identity, a while before this mix of mainstays and fresh faces will be defined and a while before this group can prove whether they’re a team capable of competing with anyone on any given night.

Their journey began Thursday night at the Garden after nearly six months of waiting, and they’ll overall be pleased with the start of this new chapter after defeating the rival Islanders 5-3 in what was the Rangers’ first season-opener at home since 2007.

They’ll be more than pleased to see that Chris Kreider carried over a great preseason into the opener, punctuating a strong performance with a go-ahead 9:45 into the third period off a long pass from debutante Pavel Buchnevich, putting the Rangers up 3-2.

Mats Zuccarello (l.) scored a goal with new linemate Mika Zibanejad.

Mats Zuccarello (l.) scored a goal with new linemate Mika Zibanejad.

(Mary Altaffer/AP)

Kreider has long had the physical tools to be a dominant forward, and after forming instant chemistry with the 21-year-old Buchnevich and trade acquisition Mika Zibanejad, Kreider could be on the cusp of a major step forward.

Brandon Pirri, who made the team for his scoring touch and power-play prowess, scored a power-play goal with 3:49 left in the game to give the Rangers the two-goal cushion they coughed up early in the third period. Kreider set it up with a backhand pass from the front of the net. J.T. Miller added an empty-netter before Brock Nelson cut the lead to 5-3 with 1:35 left. Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves.

Henrik Lundqvist stopped 22 of the Islanders' 25 shots, including all four off the stick of John Tavares.

Henrik Lundqvist stopped 22 of the Islanders’ 25 shots, including all four off the stick of John Tavares.

(Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

First-year Ranger and former Islander Michael Grabner scored the first goal of the Rangers’ 90th season in the first period and Mats Zuccarello, the team’s top returning scorer, doubled their lead in the second.

All was fairly well for the Rangers through two periods as they held a 2-0 lead and outshot the Isles by seven. The third period barely began before the Isles got on the board, with Nick Leddy scoring past a sliding Marc Staal to cut the deficit in half. The Islanders then tied the game at 4:04 when Cal Clutterbuck redirected a Nikolay Kulemin shot in front initially set up by a Casey Cizikas cross-ice pass.

Michael Grabner (r.) put the Rangers on the board in the first period.

Michael Grabner (r.) put the Rangers on the board in the first period.

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Grabner netted an easy one at 13:41 of the first, cleaning up a loose puck after Isles goalie Jaroslav Halak left a rebound off Brandon Pirri’s slot shot off an odd-man rush. Zuccarello tallied with 2:19 left in the second when his backhand toward the slot deflected off Ryan Strome’s left skate and into the net. Zibanejad, an offensive force in his first game as a Ranger after coming over from Ottawa in exchange for Derick Brassard, played the puck out of the corner to Brady Skjei, who fed Zuccarello for the pinball finish.

Buchnevich and fellow rookie Jimmy Vesey made their highly anticipated debuts, something Buchnevich said Thursday morning was “a dream of my childhood.”

The Rangers will be relying on those two to be top-nine contributors as they approach this season younger and faster, and Alain Vigneault is confident in their ability.

“I’ve always been a firm believer in talent has no age,” Vigneault said. “When a person has talent, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a matter of getting it out and giving them the opportunity, putting them in situations where they can be successful. Some can do it, some can’t. The ones that seem to be able to do it are the ones that have that quiet confidence that just go out and just play.”

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Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News

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