It's obvious that the Islanders missed Jason Blake, but that was made all the more apparent when he picked up a goal, an assist and a +3 rating Wednesday night. Blake scored almost immediately in his comeback game, while Trent Hunter added a pair of goals, helping the Islanders to a 4-2 win.
Just 30 seconds into the game, Blake, returning after missing two games with a concussion, put the first shot on goal, blowing past the Devils along the right boards to fire a sharp wrister on Martin Brodeur. The New Jersey netminder was equal to the task this time. But when Devils defenseman Sean Brown mishandled the puck in the slot, Blake pounced, getting a mini-breakaway that he buried to Brodeur's glove-side.
The period saw the two teams combine for 14 minutes in penalties, but neither team was able to convert. The Islanders had a prime opportunity thanks to a 5-on-3 advantage, but a miscue nearly resulted in a tie-game. Alexei Zhitnik lost control of the puck in the slot in the Devils' zone as Colin White was released from the sin bin. A quick pass, and White had a 1-on-1 with Rick DiPietro, but the Islanders goalie stoned him with a leg pad.
The first half of the second period was quiet until a Chris Campoli pass in the Devils' zone set up a goal. Unfortunately for the Islanders, it was scored by New Jersey wing Zach Parise, who turned the pick-off on Campoli into a 2-on-1 with Brian Gionta. A quick cut to the net and a good shot under a diving DiPietro, and the score was knotted at 1-1.
Another picked-off pass in the Devils' zone resulted in another goal, just 22 seconds later. This time though, it was the Islanders benefiting, as White flubbed a clearing attempted in the slot. The puck landed on Mike York's stick and then behind Martin Brodeur, thanks to a quick spin by York and a screen by Blake.
Just 30 seconds into the game, Blake, returning after missing two games with a concussion, put the first shot on goal, blowing past the Devils along the right boards to fire a sharp wrister on Brodeur. The New Jersey netminder was equal to the task this time. But when Devils defenseman Sean Brown mishandled the puck in the slot, Blake pounced, getting a mini-breakaway that he buried to Brodeur's glove-side.
The period saw the two teams combine for 14 minutes in penalties, but neither team was able to convert. The Islanders had a prime opportunity thanks to a 5-on-3 advantage, but a miscue nearly resulted in a tie-game. Alexei Zhitnik lost control of the puck in the slot in the Devils' zone as White was released from the sin bin. A quick pass, and White had a 1-on-1 with DiPietro, but the Islanders goalie stoned him with a leg pad.
In the third period, the eighth time on the powerplay was the charm, as a holding penalty on Gionta led to the third goal for the Islanders. Playing the puck down low, York collected the puck off a clearing attempt by Richard Matvichuk, and fed Jeff Hamilton behind Brodeur's net. A flick of the wrists and the puck was on Trent Hunter's stick at the right post, where he tucked it behind Brodeur for his sixth goal of the season.
The powerplay giveth and the powerplay taketh away though, as a high-sticking penalty to Miroslav Satan left him in the penalty box when the Devils cut the lead to one goal. Taking the puck in the right corner of the Islanders' zone, Alexander Mogilny sent a hard pass along the goal line to the crease, where York deflected it to the point. New Jersey defenseman Paul Martin was in the right spot at the right time though, and one-timed a shot over DiPietro's shoulder to make it 3-2 with half a period remaining.
Blake's big night back was hardly over though, as he picked up his 200th point as an Islander, setting up Hunter's second goal of the night. Utilizing his trademark speed, Blake blazed a trail around the boards in the Devils' zone before spotting Hunter at the top of the right circle. Firing off a hard pass across the zone put Hunter in position to blast a one-timer under Brodeur's glove, giving the Islanders' a 4-2 lead.
OFF THE ICE: Three Stars of the Night: 1. Mike York, 2. Trent Hunter, 3. Jason Blake...Rob Collins was called back up from Bridgeport, after picking up his first NHL goal and assist Monday... For the Islanders, Shawn Bates (hamstring), Oleg Kvasha (ankle), Kevin Colley (knee), Petteri Nokelainen (knee) and Tomi Pettinen (healthy) were scratched, while the Devils sat Grant Marshall (groin), Patrik Elias (Hepatitis A) and Vladimir Malakhov (suspended)... In five of the past six meetings, the Islanders emerged victorious, losing only in New Jersey in March of 2004... In a rarity in today's NHL, neither team iced a player who had worn the opponent's sweater... Jeremy Colliton, sent down after Monday's game, scored his eighth goal of the year Wednesday in Bridgeport, leading the Sound Tigers to a 2-1 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It was only the third regulation loss for the AHL Penguins this season.
--additional reporting by Brian Bohl
Brent Sopel on the return of Jason Blake:
"It was definitely a lift to have 55 back. You know the energy he brings to the game. Getting the first one by Marty (Brodeur) was important and we took it from there."
On playing disciplined hockey:
"We have to play as a five man unit. Whoever is out there has to concentrate on their roles and help in the transitions. We needed to keep the puck out of our own zone and tonight we did."
Mike York on the importance of beating a division rival:
"It's real important because at the end of the year you don't want to be battling to just make the playoffs, you want to be fighting for home ice (advantage)."
Trent Hunter on rebounding from a difficult loss:
"After you give up nine, it's key to come back and focus and I think we did a good job of getting pressure and getting the puck out of our zone. We had to put that game behind us and realize we have a lot of games coming up and start rebuilding.
Steve Stirling on strategy:
"Playing those guys forces us to be patient with the puck. We had to be disciplined and get good position in the mid zone. Everything came together tonight. We did a lot of simple, good things."
On the team's upcoming game against first-place Ottawa:
"I think it will be a great challenge. It's a comfort to go into that game after an effort like tonight. I liked our game down low, and we'll have to do even better than that to be successful."
(45) Arron Asham-(79) Alexei Yashin-(81) Miroslav Satan
(55) Jason Blake-(16) Mike York-(7) Trent Hunter
(18) Jeff Hamilton-(28) Wyatt Smith-(37) Mark Parrish
(11) Mattias Weinhandl-(54) Rob Collins-(49) Eric Godard
(77) Alexei Zhitnik-(3) Brent Sopel
(44) Janne Niinimaa-(25) Brad Lukowich
(14) Chris Campoli-(24) Radek Martinek
(39) Rick DiPietro
(30) Garth Snow
(23) Scott Gomez-(9) Zach Parise-(14) Brian Gionta
(18) Sergei Brylin-(22) Viktor Kozlov-(89) Alexander Mogilny
(20) Jay Pandolfo-(11) John Madden-(15) Jamie Langenbrunner
(17) Darren Langdon-(10) Erik Rasmussen-(25) Cam Janssen
(28) Brian Rafaski-(5) Colin White
(7) Paul Martin-(24) Richard Matvichuk
(2) Dan McGillis-(8) Sean Brown
(30) Martin Brodeur
(40) Scott Clemmensen