Mathew Barzal likes playing at Madison Square Garden. It helps that both he and the New York Islanders have been successful there.
Barzal had a goal and an assist, Semyon Varlamov stopped 27 shots for his 36th career shutout and the Islanders beat the rival Rangers 3-0 on Friday night. Barzal has 17 points in 12 career games on the Garden ice.
“Any player that comes into MSG gets a little bit more fired up, there’s so much history here,” he said. “It’s a fun atmosphere. Aside from that, I think it’s just Islanders-Rangers rivalry. We want our fans at the end of the day to celebrate after games against them. That just fires me and our team up a little bit more.”
Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin also scored for the Islanders, who have won three straight and seven of 10. Varlamov, who had 10 shutouts last season — including four against the Rangers — got his second this season.
“When we’re at our best is the way we’re playing,” Martin said. “They’re a good hockey team, they had their chances. … Varly made a few good saves. Overall, it was a solid game by our group, I think everybody was going.”
Long considered out of the playoff picture, the Islanders pulled within 13 points of Washington for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference with 15 games remaining — one more than the Capitals.
Igor Shesterkin finished with 15 saves to fall to 32-10-3. The Rangers snapped a four-game win streak and lost for just the third time in 11 games.
“The Islanders played a good game,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “We were (terrible), but at least we do it together as a team. Like the great game we played in Pittsburgh (a 3-2 win on Tuesday), we do it as a team. Tonight, we get the other side of it.”
The Rangers lost at home for just the second time in seven games — both against the Islanders, who have won six of their last seven visits to Madison Square Garden.
“We love playing in this arena, we love playing those guys,” Cizikas said.
Varlamov, starting on consecutive nights for the first time in his three seasons with the Islanders, had seven saves in the first period, 12 in the second and eight in the third to improve to 9-13-2. He blanked the Rangers for the fourth straight time at MSG.
“We keep talking about it, but it’s every night,” Barzal said. “It’s consistent with him and (Ilya) Sorokin. Nothing really surprises us. They’re both elite goalies.”
The Rangers, shut out for just the fourth time this season, remained five points behind Carolina for second place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of third-place Pittsburgh.
Barzal got a pass from Oliver Wahlstrom in the right circle, skated in on Shesterkin, deked a forehand shot before going to his backhand and scoring up high as he cut across the front at 2:47 of the third to increase the Islanders’ lead to 3-0. It was Barzal’s 14th goal of the season and his 300th career point.
The Rangers pulled Shesterkin for an extra skater with 7:40 to play. He returned less than a minute later after a stoppage in play and remained on the ice the rest of the way.
Filip Chytil had a chance at an open net from the left side for the Rangers with 2:45 left, but missed.
Varlamov smothered Andrew Copp’s wraparound try 1:30 into the second period to preserve the Islanders’ 1-0 lead.
The Islanders doubled their lead at 4:48 as Barzal brought the puck up on a 2-on-1 rush and sent a pass across to Martin, who trailed the play and beat Shesterkin from the right circle. It was Martin’s third of the season and first since Feb. 9 at Vancouver.
The Islanders got on the scoreboard 2:40 into the game. After the Rangers failed to clear the puck, the Islanders’ Ryan Pulock got it at the blue line, skated to the right faceoff dot and his centering pass across the front of the goal was redirected by Cizikas past Shesterkin. It was Cizikas’ ninth goal of the season and 199th career point.