Rangers demolish Islanders, but suffer a key injury

NEW YORK — The Rangers didn’t escape this grueling stretch of hockey unscathed — far from it.

An unforgiving schedule left them bruised and battered, with the latest injury to defenseman Ryan Lindgren raising legitimate concerns about his status with the playoffs just over a month away. But somehow, someway, the Blueshirts conquered this nine-day gauntlet by winning five out of six.

It culminated with Sunday’s 5-2 victory over the Islanders at Madison Square Garden, with the added bonus of keeping their rival on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Isles are stuck one point behind Detroit for the final wild-card slot (it could be three points by day’s end if the Red Wings earn a win in Pittsburgh), while the first-place Rangers (45-19-4) continue to keep pace with the conference’s best.

“I thought it was really gutsy,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “That’s a hard six games.”

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At this rate, Laviolette may want to seriously contemplate picking spots to protect his key players.

Lindgren left the game late in the second period, unable to put any weight on his left leg after taking a hit along the boards from Isles forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Laviolette said after the game that the 26-year-old defenseman was still being evaluated for what the team is calling a lower-body injury, but it’s hard not to worry given the scary manner in which his knee twisted.

“It sucks,” rookie forward Will Cuylle said bluntly. “He’s a pretty tough guy and plays through a lot of stuff. It’s tough to see and I hope he can get better soon.”

Lindgren’s injury comes on top of captain Jacob Trouba missing his sixth straight game with his own lower-body issue, while No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad continues to wear a full face shield after taking a puck to the jaw in Thursday’s 6-3 loss in Tampa. Others, including top defenseman Adam Fox, have been hobbled by the recent pounding.

New York Rangers' teammates help Ryan Lindgren (55) off the ice after he was injured during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders, Sunday, March 17, 2024, in New York.

New York Rangers’ teammates help Ryan Lindgren (55) off the ice after he was injured during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders, Sunday, March 17, 2024, in New York.

The schedule isn’t letting up any time soon, either. Beginning March 9, the Rangers entered a stretch of 20 games in 38 days to conclude the regular season. They’ll get a day off Monday, then turn right around and host the formidable Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

“It’s a lot of hockey, but just try to get sleep right after the game when you get back home, eat well, recovery right after game,” forward Kaapo Kakko said. “We flew (Saturday) right after the game (in Pittsburgh), so it’s not ideal. But just try to do your best. Have a good warmup before the game, and I think that’s all you can do to get ready.”

Credit the Rangers for gutting out a pair of weekend wins — first Saturday in Pittsburgh, then Sunday at the Garden — when it was clear they weren’t operating with a full tank. But with the playoffs on the horizon and their odds of making the tournament at 100%, according to, it will be imperative to keep their top guys as fresh as possible for when it matters most.

A ‘much better’ defensive effort

The Rangers’ heavy legs resulted in some very shaky defense in Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Penguins, and while a few turnovers setup dangerous rush chances for the Islanders on Sunday, the overall effort was much cleaner.

They limited their Long Island rival to 27 shots and six high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick, including just six shots and one HDCF in a smothering third period.

“We were much better,” Laviolette said. “They slipped behind a couple of times, but I thought as a game went on, it got tighter and tighter. … When it came time in the third period, I thought we locked it down pretty good.”

Vincent Trocheck, who led all Rangers’ forwards with 18:09 time on ice while winning 67% (8-for-12) of his faceoffs, said the emphasis in the back-to-back situation was to cut down on the risk-taking and trust their structure.

“We worked hard and kept it simple,” he said. “We had good D-zone coverage, and I thought our neutral zone was really good. They have a lot of speed up front, so we tried to slow them down through the neutral zone, limit their chances off the rush and stay into our system.”

A standout game for Will Cuylle

The Isles forechecked their way to a shorthanded goal from Bo Horvat at the 14:08 mark and took that 1-0 lead into the second period, but it was mostly Rangers from that point forward.

They struck for three goals in the middle 20 minutes, with the first coming from Zibanejad just 27 seconds into the period. Trade-deadline addition Jack Roslovic made the key play, retrieving a loose puck along the boards and dishing a quick pass to No. 93 in the high slot. Zibanejad didn’t miss, unloading a screaming one-timer for his 22nd goal of the season and third in the last five games.

Next it was Cuylle putting the Rangers on top, 2-1, at the 10:14 mark. He received a stretch pass from Lindgren and flicked a wrist shot by Isles goalie Ilya Sorokin off the rush for goal No. 12 in his impressive rookie campaign.

“I was coming back to the neutral zone after throwing a hit, and I just kind of found the open ice,” he said. “(Lindgren) made a great play to hit me, and I saw a lane to the net, so I took it.”

The hit that preceded the goal was one of a game-high eight thrown by Cuylle, who was an all-around force on Sunday.

“I’m just trying to play my game,” he said. “Obviously, back-to-back is tough, but this is our job. We’ve got to play.  There are no excuses. We’ve got to show up. I was just trying to play with as much energy as I can.”

Laviolette has tweaked his bottom-six forwards a couple times in the last few games, with Sunday featuring another change.

He shifted Cuylle to the checking line with Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey, with that trio tasked with matching up against some of the Isles’ top forwards. They limited them to only one scoring chance (which didn’t register as high danger) while earning an 82.55% xGF, according to Natural Stat Trick.

“I’ve mentioned in the past I think (Cuylle) has been pretty responsible,” Laviolette said. “He does a lot of good things defensively and chips in offensively, as well. But just to be at home and have that line to use in that manner at times is important. In the game and in the playoffs, having a line that can do that gives you a line that can be really useful. I was just trying to get a look at that.”

‘Our team is deep right now’

Horvat scored his second goal of the game a few minutes after Cuylle’s tally, but the 2-2 tie only lasted 1:06.

That’s when Jonny Brodzinski came through with the winning goal by tipping a slap shot from K’Andre Miller, his first score since Feb. 9.

That was followed by Kakko opening the third period with his 10th goal of the season, an aggressive wrist shot from the right circle that upped the lead to 4-2.

His line with Brodzinski and Alex Wennberg out-shot the Isles, 9-1, highlighting a strong effort from the Rangers’ bottom six.

“That third period, I feel our line got a little more ice time,” said Kakko, who finished with six shot attempts in 14:17 TOI and is quietly heating up with three goals in his last six games. “No PKs, no power plays, so we get more shifts. That helps. I thought in the third period, we played better. Got more time in the O zone. I think that’s our game. … I think that’s my game, and it’s getting better of late.”

Alexis Lafrenière put the cherry on top by scoring his 19th goal with 9:18 to play, making it a total of 12 goals − nine of which came at five-on-five − in the Blueshirts’ pair of weekend wins.

It was an impressive afternoon for many of the Rangers’ young players. Cuylle, Kakko and Lafrenière each scored, while 24-and-younger defensemen Miller and Zac Jones combined for three points and a plus-three rating.

Miller, who led all skaters with 24:43 TOI, has been red-hot with five points in his last two games, while Jones may have played his most complete game since inserting into the lineup for Trouba. He earned an assist on Kakko’s goal, carried the puck with confidence and made a few key defensive plays, including one that eliminated a three-on-one rush from the Isles late in the first period.

With Lindgren’s status up in the air, the 23-year-old could find himself sticking in the lineup well beyond Trouba’s expected return in the next week or two.

“Our team is deep right now,” Trocheck said. “We’re getting contributions up and down the lineup. Even when lines aren’t scoring, they’re contributing in other ways – getting the momentum, keeping the puck in the O zone. If we can continue to do that, I like our chances against anybody.”

Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Postgame takeaways: Rangers win five out of six but lose Ryan Lindgren