The Tom Wilson game created all the hullabaloo, but by the time May 3 happened at the Garden, the decision already had been made to move on from the executive team of president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.
And if there was one team responsible for the decision executed by Garden chairman Jim Dolan (other than the Rangers), it was not the Capitals.
It was the Islanders.
And the dates and games that Dolan likely circled were April 20, when the Blueshirts took a 6-1 beatdown at the Coliseum in a match when Jacob Trouba was concussed in the first period on a legal hit by Matt Martin; and April 29 at the Garden, when Ryan Lindgren was suspected to have suffered a third-period concussion in the aftermath of a collision the defenseman initiated with Cal Clutterbuck in a second consecutive embarrassment of a defeat, this one by 4-0.
(There was another humiliation to come two days later on Long Island in a 3-0 defeat in which Martin blithely elbowed Mika Zibanejad in the face without a semblance of retribution the rest of the way, but by that time the Rangers were a decimated and demoralized squad a week away from the end of the season.)
The Rangers’ inability to be competitive against the Islanders throughout the season, 2-5-1 while shut out four times and dominated physically, set off alarm bells throughout the organization. The Islanders, and specifically the Identity Line consisting of Martin, Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, were the bullies on the beach kicking sand in the Rangers’ collective faces.
But not now. Not this year.
Because the Rangers not only took no guff from the Islanders at the new digs at Belmont on Thanksgiving Eve, they had the fourth line that dominated the action, oh yes they did in this 4-1 victory over the skeleton squad dressed in Islanders laundry.
The Blueshirts took the initiative. The Blueshirts responded, not once but twice when they believed that Ryan Lindgren had taken an uncalled headshot from J-G Pageau 13:37 into the third period — and the first responders were none other than Adam Fox and Alex Lafreniere.
“It’s like we were in the movie ‘Interstellar,’ ’’ said Ryan Reaves, who helped create two Kevin Rooney goals, the second of which came off No. 75’s stellar two-on-one backhand feed. “Parallel universe, I didn’t know what was going on. It was fun.”
You don’t have to tell me the Islanders took the ice with a skeleton squad, ravaged by a combination of COVID-19 and injuries that sidelined, among others, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara. But that’s hockey, Suzyn, or at least it’s hockey as administered by NHL headquarters.
Still, the two points the Rangers earned are not devalued. Still, the 12-4-3 Rangers moved a full 15 points ahead of the 5-9-2 Islanders, who have lost seven straight in regulation by three goals or more and have been outscored by an aggregate 31-7 through this nightmarish start to the season that may have nowhere to go.
And there is this, too: A year ago — yes, we’re time traveling again — the Rangers faced New Jersey at the Garden after the Devils had been shut down for two weeks and had practiced once in the interim. Guess what? New Jersey 5, New York 2.
“Every team has good players in the minors, good players that are hungry coming up into the system that you know want to prove themselves when they do make it up here,” said Reaves, whose fourth line with Rooney and center Barclay Goodrow has been on for three of the club’s last five goals at five-on-five. “You can’t take teams like that lightly because they’re sometimes the hungriest teams. If you take them lightly they’ll step on your throat.”
When Lindgren was belted on the boards by Pageau, Fox tracked the center and dragged him down. Later, Lafreniere confronted Pageau, the two dropping their gloves, the kid from Saint-Eustache picking up the first fighting major of his career as well as plaudits from his mates.
“I think we were all [proud of him],” said Chris Kreider, who scored two more to elevate his total to 15 in 19 games, with 11 in the last 11 matches. “That was awesome.
“He loves mixing it up. He loves playing with an edge.”
Jacob Trouba had another big-time game, with his pair including K’Andre Miller assuming more and more responsibility. The Blueshirts battled on the walls, they competed in the dirty areas. The fourth-line, per Kreider, “They were monsters.”
No. 20 was not talking about Clutterbuck, Martin and Cizikas.