New York Islanders' Andrew MacDonald (47) watches New York Rangers' Benoit Pouliot (67), Michael Del Zotto (4), Dan Girardi (5) and Derick Brassard, right, celebrate Pouliot's goal in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
NEW YORK, N.Y. - When you have only 10 wins all season, every one is big. So don't ask the New York Islanders to rank them.
Whether the moment struck them in the immediate aftermath of a 5-3 victory over the rival New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the Islanders weren't letting on. They were just happy to come away with a regulation win on Friday night.
"I don't think we had won too many games overall," said forward Michael Grabner, who scored two goals. "We've got to work ourselves back into the playoff picture. Today was a good start, but tomorrow is another test."
The Islanders (10-19-7) will host the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. New York is still a ways away from the playoff race, but it closed within seven points of the sliding Rangers (16-18-2).
Thomas Vanek snapped a tie with a power-play goal early in the third period for the Islanders, who earned their first regulation victory in over a month.
Vanek scored during a two-man advantage at 1:18 of the third to give the Islanders their second win in 15 games and first in regulation since Nov. 12 against Nashville. They were 2-10-4 since then, including losses after regulation in their previous two.
The one that really stung was a home defeat against Tampa Bay on Tuesday in which they blew a late 2-0 lead and were beaten in a shootout.
"We've lost some heartbreakers, there is no doubt about it," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "For them to come into this building, on this stage—it's a big win for us."
Cal Clutterbuck scored a short-handed, penalty-shot goal, and Grabner added a short-handed tally in the first period. Defenceman Brian Strait scored in the second, and Grabner added an empty-netter with 50.3 seconds left for the Islanders, who scored as many as four goals for the first time in 15 games.
"It's good. We scored more than two goals," Capuano said. "It's been a long time."
Evgeni Nabokov made 21 saves for the win.
The Rangers got goals from Benoit Pouliot, Derek Dorsett and Derek Stepan, but Henrik Lundqvist stopped only 15 of 19 shots as New York fell to 1-4-2 on its team-record, nine-game homestand.
"This was definitely a frustrating game. There is no question we beat ourselves," Lundqvist said. "We kept making some simple mistakes, and I was not there to clean it up."
The Rangers tied it 2-2 just three minutes into the second when Dorsett's shot from the side boards hit Islanders defenceman Thomas Hickey in front and caromed in.
The Rangers then grabbed their first lead, but not before Grabner almost scored his second short-handed goal. His drive struck the crossbar.
"I had a pretty good move, and I guess I put it a little too high," Grabner said.
The Rangers then cashed in at the other end.
Rick Nash's pass from the boards struck Hickey and caromed to Stepan for a quick shot that produced the power-play goal at 7:58.
However, the Islanders responded with 8:34 left in the second on Strait's first regular-season NHL goal, off a feed from Josh Bailey. Prized prospect Ryan Strome earned his first NHL point in his third game.
The teams combined for three goals in a span of 2:57 late in the first period—all during Rangers power plays, but only one scored by the home team.
With Islanders teammate Andrew MacDonald off for high-sticking, Clutterbuck made it 1-0 when he scored on a questionable penalty shot.
Clutterbuck was awarded the attempt after he got free for a breakaway with defenceman Ryan McDonagh chasing. McDonagh gave a light check with his stick, and that was enough for the penalty shot to be called—much to the dismay of incredulous Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
"I just felt that I got a little tug," Clutterbuck said. "Obviously, it impeded me from making a play. That's what the ref saw, I guess."
Clutterbuck netted his fourth of the season when his shot eluded Lundqvist's glove.
The Rangers went on their third power play of the period 2:27 later, and again the Islanders took advantage.
The puck got past McDonagh at the point, and the speedy Grabner took off alone. He cut from right-to-left and tucked the puck inside the left post with 2:51 left in the first.
Grabner had gone 31 games without a goal since he netted two on opening night at New Jersey on Oct. 4.
The Rangers got one back 30 seconds later on that power play when Pouliot scored from in-close off a pass from Chris Kreider.
New York went 2 for 7 on the power play, allowing two goals in the process and failing to score on two opportunities in the game's final 6-plus minutes.
"When you outwork teams, you will find the bounces going your way," Nash said. "When you get outworked, that's when they seem to go against you."
NOTES: Bailey had gone 12 games without a point. ... Rangers forward J.T. Miller was in the lineup after being recalled from Hartford (AHL) on Thursday.