Isles Continue Domination Over Devils
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -Sometimes in sports, a particular opponent has a team's number. Apparently, that's still the case with the Islanders, who continued their recent mastery over the Devils with a dominant 5-2 victory before a sparse 8,269 at the Continental Airlines Arena Thursday night.
"It's tough to say but as long as it is we'll take it," chuckled Islander captain Alexei Yashin after setting up three goals while Jason Blake added a goal and two assists in the Isles' seventh win in the last nine against New Jersey.
"What it is is that we don't play our game against these guys," explained frustrated Devils' captain Patrik Elias. "We played into their hands and they were good."
The Isles' fifth win in six improved them to 6-4-2 and into a first place tie with Pittsburgh in the Atlantic.
"It's very nice to see," said a pleased Yashin. "It was nice to see the team respond like that. I think it's important like we really recognize the situation and importance of the game. What I want to say is, 'Game over today. There's a next game on Saturday.' We have to continue. Atlanta has been playing great hockey. So we have to be ready for that."
After owning the season series last year by taking six of eight meetings, the Islanders outworked and outplayed the Devils (6-5-1) by a wide margin, even limiting them to just 16 shots (10 first two periods).
Not even Martin Brodeur aiming for his third consecutive shutout could prevent them from finding the back of the net. It took Trent Hunter 8:00 to solve the Devils' netminder with a quick wrister which snapped Brodeur's shutout streak at 136:28 and gave the Islanders an early lead. It also broke a seven-game goal drought for Hunter.
After New York pressed for a two-goal lead, the Devils would respond by tying it thanks to rookie Travis Zajac, who finished off an impressive shift by one-timing a Jamie Langenbrunner backhand off an Isles' defenseman past Rick DiPietro at 15:30. But any momentum was shortlived as the Isles got it right back just 32 seconds later when Miroslav Satan rebounded home a Hunter shot. Mike York made the play possible by stealing the puck from Scott Gomez and setting up the goal.
Alexei Zhitnik padded the lead halfway through the second when his wrister from the point through traffic beat Brodeur. Taking a Yashin feed, his one-timer looked to change direction with Blake in front.
Briefly after, the Devils had a huge opportunity to get back in the game when two Isles were sent to the box five seconds apart giving them a two-man advantage for 1:55. But instead of capitalizing, they failed to force DiPietro to make any big stops and frequently missed the net, drawing boos instead.
"That could've brought us closer to make the game more interesting obviously and getting shots. We just haven't been able to hit the net on those and we were missing chances," Elias lamented.
Feeding off the huge kill, the Isles went up three thanks to some more nifty playmaking from Yashin. Taking a Blake drop pass at the blueline on a three-on-two, the Russian center drew two Devils and then made a perfect pass across to a wide open Viktor Kozlov in the slot for an easy one-timer goal for the ex-Devil's fourth of the season.
The Devils cut it to two 3:32 later thanks to another great shift from the Zajac line. Off a steal by Zajac which setup an odd-man rush, Langenbrunner chipped a pass to Zach Parise, who deflected it home for his sixth to give New Jersey some life heading to the third.
"We had one line going and that was about it," Elias pointed out. "We got to have obviously four lines with everybody on the same page and once again, we haven't done it."
Instead of making another comeback, New Jersey repeatedly took uncharacteristic bad penalties. After killing off one, an undisciplined Colin White slash would prove costly. Once again, a great play by Yashin resulted in a goal. Victimizing the shorthanded Devils on another three-on-two, he worked a give-and-go with Mike Sillinger and then slid the puck through a sliding Alex Brooks to setup a wide open Blake at the doorstep for a PPG at 4:46 to regain a three-goal lead.
"To beat great goalies, you have to move them from side-to-side...It's the only way to beat great goalies like Marty," Yashin concluded.
The formula worked to perfection.
Notes: York finished with two assists while Hunter matched his season output with a goal and assist. ... Isles' Arron Asham and Devils' Cam Janssen squared off and battled to a draw 2:47 in. ... Yashin has five points (2-3-5) in his last three games and has only been held without a point twice this season while leading the Islanders with 16 points. ... DiPietro turned aside 14 of 16 shots for his fourth win while Brodeur finished with 22 saves. ... Back after missing the Columbus game, Gomez played the first two periods (14:05) before reaggravating a groin injury. ... Making his return in a Devils uniform for the first time in a decade after helping them win their first Stanley Cup, Brick native Jim Dowd took 12 shifts (10:12) while playing on the fourth line with Janssen and Erik Rasmussen. ... As part of their 25th Anniversary celebration, the Devils honored their 1983-84 team before the game with a brief tribute.