UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders began play Tuesday tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Rangers entered the day tied for last.
By the end of the evening, the Rangers seemed close to curing what ailed them during October.
Benoit Pouliot's goal with 6:14 left in the third period capped an entertaining, back-and-forth game and lifted the Rangers to a 3-2 win over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
The win was the second 3-2 victory in the past three games for the Rangers, who scored three goals just twice in their first eight games, a stretch in which they went 2-6-0. The Rangers (4-7-0) climbed within three points of the Islanders (4-5-3) and Carolina Hurricanes, who share second place in the division.
Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh scored the Rangers' first two goals on the power play one night after the Rangers went scoreless on six power-play chances in a 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Of the Rangers' 24 shots Tuesday, 10 came on the power play.
"We talked to our players about our execution last night on the power play, which wasn't what it needed to be to give your team momentum and to back off the opposition," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "And tonight I thought our guys responded with a much better execution. Not the fact that we scored two goals, but we were crisper, we won with the puck, we were shooting the puck at the net, and it gave us two big goals."
Cal Clutterbuck and Peter Regin scored in the second for the Islanders, who lost to a low-ranking division rival for the second consecutive game. The Philadelphia Flyers routed the Islanders 5-2 Saturday night.
On Sunday, the Islanders traded star left wing Matt Moulson and two draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres for left wing Thomas Vanek. While Vanek had just one shot on goal in 19:49 of ice time Tuesday, the Islanders were done in yet again by defensive breakdowns. They blew a lead and lost for the fifth time in their first 12 games.
"Our defense has to find a way to play better -- we gave up one goal 5-on-5," said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano, whose postgame press conference lasted less than 90 seconds. "Thinking about recalling a guy and putting him in the lineup, I don't know. Same mistakes can't happen. We've only got six (defensemen) back there."
While the Islanders may need to continue mixing and matching to repair their troubles, the Rangers -- who opened the season on a nine-game road trip due to renovations at Madison Square Garden -- hope coming home will allow them to completely recover from a poor start.
The Rangers' third-period comeback provided a much-needed boost of confidence heading into the team's first multi-game homestand, a four-game set that begins Thursday against Buffalo.
"We were a little flat (Monday night)," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "Getting home, sometimes you exhale and you think it's going to be a little bit easier. I think now we got that out of the way, we've been in our own beds for a little bit and we'll get in a little bit of a comfort zone (with) four in a row."
The Rangers led 1-0 after one period but fell behind 2-1 in the final minute of the second period on an "own goal." Regin received credit for the goal after Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi accidentally tapped the puck into the net.
The visitors tied the score 4:59 into the third, when McDonagh's shot into a group of seven players in front of the net bounced just in front of the goalmouth and trickled under goalie Evgeni Nabokov's legs.
A little less than nine minutes later, Pouliot and Carl Hagelin -- playing his first game of the season following offseason shoulder surgery -- traded the puck just beyond the blue line before Pouliot's shot sailed through Islanders defenseman Matt Donovan and past Nabokov (21 saves) for the game-winner.
"You'd like to play with a lead, but at the same time, the guys showed a lot of resiliency," Kreider said. "It's a great character win."
The Islanders pulled Nabokov with a little more than a minute left and got three shots on goal in the final 13 seconds but could not get the equalizer. The game ended with a faceoff with 0.7 seconds left and a subsequent pushing and shoving match that involved every player on the ice except Rangers goalie Cal Talbot (22 saves).
Five penalties were issued in the post-buzzer fracas, an appropriate ending to a game that featured three tussles, a fight between the Islanders' Matt Martin and the Rangers' Derek Dorsett midway through the second as well as plenty of dueling chants in the bipartisan sellout crowd of 16,170 that turned out to see the Rangers' only visit to the Coliseum this season.
"It was good, it was a lot of atmosphere in the stands, and there was a lot of atmosphere on the ice," first-year Rangers coach Vigneault said with a grin. "Just what I expected."
NOTES: A moment of silence was held in honor of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall a year ago Tuesday night and damaged or destroyed 100,000 homes on Long Island while flooding the New York City subway system. ... The Islanders scratched LW Eric Boulton, RW Colin McDonald and D Brian Strait. The Rangers scratched D Justin Falk and LW Brandon Mashinter. ... The Islanders' second "home" game against the Rangers this season is at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 29. ... The Vanek trade was the first in-season deal for the Islanders since D James Wisniewski was sent to the Montreal Canadiens for two draft picks on Dec. 28, 2010. ... Talbot started in goal in place of Henrik Lundqvist, who returned Monday after missing two games with an unspecified injury.