NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers have quickly warmed to the challenge of playing outside in the chill of winter.
Despite being the road team in both games at frigid Yankee Stadium, the Broadway Blueshirts made themselves at home in the ballpark in the Bronx and completed a sweep of the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.
The Rangers rallied for the second straight game and topped the Islanders 2-1 on Wednesday night on Daniel Carcillo’s tiebreaking goal 4:36 into the third period.
On Sunday, the Rangers dug out of a 3-1 hole against the Devils and scored the final six goals. New York is an NHL-best 3-0 in games played outside.
“They’re a ton of fun,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “I could play in 50 of these in a year. Maybe not 50. Forty.”
Building off Sunday’s Bronx win, the Rangers took out another division rival under the lights in front of 50,027 fans. The temperature was 22 degrees when the first puck dropped at 7:45 p.m. with a single-digit wind-chill factor.
It got progressively colder.
Benoit Pouliot also scored, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 30 shots while again adorning pinstriped pads in honor of the Yankees. The only goal he allowed was a late second-period tally to Brock Nelson that gave the Islanders a short-lived 1-0 lead.
The Rangers evened the season series with the Islanders 2-2. The teams will play for the final time on Friday at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers improved to 17-10 on the road — including five straight — and they have won 13 of 19 (13-5-1) overall.
Wearing a ski cap with a pompom atop his mask, Evgeni Nabokov had 32 saves for the Islanders, who made their outdoor debut. Road teams are 9-1-1 in NHL outside games.
Nabokov handled the cold OK, and showed no signs of the injuries that have troubled him during this season.
“You never really know (about playing outdoors) until you’re out there and see that great atmosphere,” he said. “I loved every second of it.”
Carcillo fired in a rebound of Dominic Moore’s shot for his third goal of the season, helping drop the Islanders to 0-3-1 in the last four games.
“We’re playing well enough to win, but we’ve got to find a way to win,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
With both teams struggling to control the puck early, it took nearly 39 minutes for the scoreless deadlock to be broken by the Islanders, and then 40 seconds for the Rangers to get back even.
The Islanders built a big lead in shots, but couldn’t get any past Lundqvist — despite getting the first three power plays. When Islanders forward Kyle Okposo went off for holding, and took Rangers forward Rick Nash with him for embellishing with 9:49 left in the second, the Islanders held a 21-10 edge in shots.
By the time the period ended, the Rangers had cut it to 25-20.
The Islanders grabbed a 1-0 lead with 1:27 left in the second, using a three-way passing play. Cal Clutterbuck flung the puck from the left circle into the middle as he fell, and connected with defenseman Matt Donovan, who quickly moved the pass to his right to Nelson, who fired in his 10th goal.
Before it was announced to the cheering and shivering sold-out crowd, the Rangers tied it with Pouliot’s ninth goal.
Derick Brassard did hard work from the back edge of the left post, worked the puck free and slid it in front past the prone Nabokov, who was down in the crease. Pouliot scored into a fairly open net with 46.3 seconds remaining.
Both teams dealt with a bouncing puck during the scoreless first, and Islanders forward Thomas Vanek had a puck hop over his stick from right in front of Lundqvist early in the second.
Even though the Rangers had already played a game on this ice, coach Alain Vigneault didn’t think it gave his club an edge.
“I don’t think it took them a long time to figure out that the puck was bouncing, and that it was going to be challenging as far as making plays,” he said of the Islanders. “But I do feel our response after they scored, how quickly they responded really helped us in that third period.”
Nabokov was playing in his first full game since returning from a lower-body injury that forced him to miss 10 games. He backed up Kevin Poulin in a 6-3 loss to Boston on Monday, but came on in relief for the third period and stopped the only shot he faced.
Nabokov drank from a steaming cup at the bench during a break in the second period.
Lundqvist looked comfortable at the other end, playing on the Yankee Stadium ice for the second time in four days. Since giving up three goals in the first period against New Jersey following a pregame nap, Lundqvist allowed just one over the next five frames.
“I felt more calm and in a good place when the game started,” Lundqvist said. “I think the preparation was a little bit better, but I was definitely more relaxed.”
While the Rangers had louder support, despite this being an Islanders home game, both sides were well represented and occasionally traded chants of “Let’s Go Rangers!” and “Let’s Go Islanders!” There were no signs of empty seats, even in the far reaches of the upper deck that stretch into right-center and left-center field.
Including the Winter Classic and last weekend’s game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the combined attendance for outdoor games this season is 259,722.
“It’s been an incredible month of special events,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “To our fans who were here both Sunday and tonight: simply incredible.”
NOTES: Okposo had a six-game point streak snapped. Nash had a five-game goal run broken. ... The Islanders were 0 for 4 on the power play, including one at the end of game. The Rangers were 0 for 1.