The cynic contingent that figured the New York Rangers had depleted their supply of energy and luck in beating the New York Islanders Sunday had to be disappointed tonight, as the Rangers shut out the visitors for almost three periods for a 3-1 victory.
It evened the best-of-seven Patrick Division final series at two games apiece, with Game 5 set Wednesday in Uniondale, N.Y., and increased the Islanders' respect for their rivals.
"I gotta say, (Ranger goaltender) Eddie Mio stoned us," said Bob Nystrom. "He was really the factor."
Indeed, Mio's presence in the net, and tougher defensive play by the Rangers, frustrated the Islanders from the beginning of the game until more than halfway through the final period.
George McPhee's goal at 2:51 of the first period, set up by Ron Duguay, provided the early cushion the Rangers needed, as the Islanders tried to organize an attack and were thwarted on every attempt, despite a total of 36 shots on goal.
But the Rangers didn't get a bigger edge until late in the game, when Mio cleared the puck out to Anders Hedberg near center ice. Hedberg took off with the puck, tossing it over to Mark Pavelich, who put it behind Rollie Melanson at 10:40 of the final period.
"I felt that second goal was so important," Hedberg said later. "I knew whoever got that next goal would go up. It broke things open."
And two minutes later, when Reijo Ruotsalainen picked up the puck on a Mike McEwen giveaway, he scored to ensure that things would stay that way.
The Islanders, who had played catch-up hockey throughout the last period of Sunday night's game and came within a goal of gaining a tie, did get one goal, when Greg Gilbert skated around Mio's net, trying to stuff the puck between his pads. Brent Sutter was standing in the crease and was originally credited with the goal, but it was Gilbert's stick that poked it in at 18:22.
"Maybe after we'd scored four goals in the last period the night before, we expected a different kind of game," Nystrom said. "But they played well."
Rangers Coach Herb Brooks termed Sunday's final period a "built-in lesson" for his club. "At our afternoon team meeting, there was some displeasure that was mentioned, basically about concentration," he said. "The fact that we had that questionable period where there was a comeback helped us to turn around some things after letting it slide."
The Islanders, still playing without Bryan Trottier, who had injured his left knee in the first game of the series, spent too much time trying to counteract the Rangers' weaving, circling offense to repeat their feat of Sunday night.
"We had a lot of good chances, and I don't think they (the Rangers) had as many chances as they had in the third game," said Nystrom, whose third-period elbowing of Tom Laidlaw resulted in Laidlaw being sent to the hospital with a possible concussion. "I don't really think we failed. The goals they got in the third period were good efforts. But we can't start feeling sorry for ourselves now. It's still the first team that wins four."
Although the Islanders had played a superb game on Friday, the first time Trottier was scratched, they seemed to miss his presence more in each of the successive games. And his linemate Mike Bossy was nearly invisible tonight, getting just three shots on goal, bouncing one off a goal post.
Trottier said after tonight's game that he would play when the series resumes. Asked if his injury had cleared sufficiently for his return, he said, "I'll have to be ready."