Like making a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islanders fans came from far and wide to see the Epic Battle for New York at the Nassau Coliseum last night. It took me over 5 hours to reach the Battlefield, as the normally 3 hour drive from Pennsylvania combined with Thanksgiving travelers (taking over an hour just to exit the New Jersey Turnpike!). Risking life and limb, as tailgaters rode up on me and mack trucks merging into the lane I occupied, my call of duty summoned me home to Ground Zero.
The building was completely packed and the fans were loud. Many a fan, old and young had lost their voices before the National Anthem was sung. The Islanders came out like a team possessed. But when the buzzer sounded at the end of the period, it was the Rangers who drew first blood on the power play after a bad clearing attempt by Beezer and a blistering shot from Brian Leetch that beat the net minder just inside the post. A blocked shot trickled its way through the slot, and the Isles goalie played it. He fired it up the middle, where Leetch intercepted it and fired it home before Beezer could get set.
The second period began and the Islanders came out flying. Brad Isbister carried the puck over the blue line and passed it forward to Mariusz Czerkowski. Chow skated the puck around the net and passed to a waiting Oleg Kvasha, sitting on McLean's stoop. The Big man took the puck, had a cup of coffee, read the paper, then fired the puck into the back of the net while McLean wondered why his defense gave Kvasha so much time to set up.
About 7 minutes later, the Rangers took back-to-back penalties 19 seconds apart. The Islanders 0-for-33 power play didn't take long to set up this time. They executed perfectly and 32 seconds later, Mark Parrish fired a missile that McLean got a piece of, but it trickled through him and over the goal line, giving the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
The Rangers tied it on their second power play goal of the night by Radek Davorek. Mark Messier helped the Rangers take the lead on the Blueshirts' only even-strength goal of the night. It was a spectacular play. During a 4-on-4, Leetch passed the puck to York on the left wing. Messier who was cutting through from the far right, was left completely alone by the Isles defense. York fired a tape-to-tape pass. Messier cut through the mouth of the net, waited for Beezer to make a move, and buried an easy goal into the open net with only seconds remaining in the period.
The third period was another high-flying 20 minutes for the Islanders, who outshot the Rangers 11-4 in the frame. Mats Lindgren knotted the game with a nice goal at 7:52.
So it was to OT to decide the outcome of the game. Both teams came out fired up, as the fans tried to drown each other out with dueling, "Lets Go Islanders" and "Lets Go Rangers" chants. With two minutes left in the overtime, Kevin Haller was called for holding and the Rangers set up the 4-on-3 overtime power play. Vanbiesbrouck, who had been shaky all night, only stopping 20 of 24 shots, had some moments where he cost Islanders fans years off their lives. This included a huge rebound up the middle that the defense luckily cleared, and a loose puck trickling through the crease as he laid prone and 3 Rangers swarmed the net. In the end, however, Theo Fleury found a way to beat Vanbiesbrouck.
They say in hockey, a tie is like kissing your sister. Well, this one was more like kissing that large great-aunt with the mustache that comes over and tells you how big you've gotten, even though you haven't grown an inch in 5 years.
The Isles played with passion and energy, something that's been missing over the last several games. They fought hard, took the body, and played all out. Fans who were very disappointed with the final score couldn't be disappointed with the heart and effort the Isles put forth tonight. Kenny Jonsson played a terrific match, and Tim Connolly flashed some brilliant moves. If only he could hold onto the puck! When this guy hones his skills, he's going to be a league-wide force. It was that late penalty and a rocky game by Beezer that made the difference.
Mark Messier played in his 1500th NHL game. Also, Tim Connolly played his 100th game, and Roman Hamrlik's assist was his 300th NHL point. Lots of Milestones.
The Islanders and the Rangers owners have entered into a Gentleman's wager on their teams beginning this season. The Pat LaFontaine Trophy named after the long time Islander and heartbreaking Ranger will be given to the team who wins the season series. The team will have bragging rights and get the Cup on their concourse for the following season. Also, the losing team will donate $100,000 to the winning team's charity of choice. Isn't it great to have an ownership that can/will do this?
While the Isles losing streak continues, their pointless streak ended, as they took a point thanks to the NHL's generous overtime point system. Hey, every journey starts with a step, even if it's a small one.
Note to the Young Islanders:
You guys, Mark Parrish, Oleg Kvasha, Taylor Pyatt, this is your first game against the Rangers while in an Islander Uniform. Martyring tonight's game will be worth it if you and the others remember it. Let it burn inside you and let the fire build. Let it erupt like a volcano when we next meet. Scorch the hated Rangers. Learn to hate them and everything they stand for, as we the fans loathe everything in Ranger Blue. Messier is Islanders Public Enemy #1! We lost the battle, but the War has only just begun! 'Til we meet again...
Happy Thanksgiving to all, and say hi to your large great-aunts for me!