We're just back to the keyboard after witnessing a thrilling overtime victory at Nassau Coliseum. Also, as promised, an update on today's late games from the World Juniors in the Czech Republic. So here we go...
Wednesday night's game had been highly anticipated for quite a while in Islanderland because of the return of former star Jason Blake (now with the Toronto Maple Leafs). The Islanders, who celebrate their history and always treat their alumni well, went out of their way to play a short pre-game video tribute to Blake. It was basically a montage of his play on both blue lines and his nonstop hustle. In fact, the video closed with the words, "Jason, thanks for the hustle."
When the game began, the crowd was not as appreciative. While the video did get applause (and many in the crowd sported Blake sweaters), the man himself was booed each and every time he touched the puck. Frankly, this reaction was a bit baffling. Blake was a free agent at the end of the season and at his age the Islanders wanted to commit neither the years and/or money to keep him. He left for a team that was willing to bend to his demands; that's just how professional sports works these days. Sadly, I suppose some will always view him as some sort of "traitor," which is simply not the truth.
The first period featured a wide-open style that we haven't seen much of from the Isles this year. Alexander Steen made the Leafs fans who made the trip happy at 6:13, rifling a shot above DiPietro's shoulder to give the Leafs the lead. Andy Hilbert allowed the Islander fans to shout down the few "Go Leafs Go" chants just 49 seconds later, notching his fourth goal of the year. The way things have gone so far for the Isles' offense to this point in the season, we expected 1-1 to be the score at the break, but we were very wrong.
Mark Bell gave Toronto a temporary 2-1 lead with just under 7 minutes to play in the opening period. However, an inspired Mike Comrie netted his 10th goal of the season and then assisted on Bill Guerin's 9th shortly after. After 1, we stood at 3-2 in favor of the Islanders.
The most noteworthy event of the second period took place before it even started, as the public address announcer let the crowd know that Wade Dubielewicz was now in goal for the Isles. After some scrambling, those of us in the Blog Box found out that Rick DiPietro injured his knee prior to the game, couldn't continue, and will be re-evaluated on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Islanders will call up goalie Joey MacDonald to backup Dubie for that day's tilt in Ottawa.
Fast forward to the third, where Steen struck again for the Leafs, tying the game on a shorthanded blast. Both teams had great chances to win it in regulation (Sean Bergenheim rang the post loudly) but the goaltending was up to snuff, and we went to overtime.
After a miraculous overtime penalty kill (with Wade Dubielewicz standing on his head and Brendan Witt blocking shots with his body), the Isles were able to slip the game winner past Andrew Raycroft. Richard Park, whose game most resembles the style Blake featured during his Islander tenure, stripped said former-hero of the puck and tore down the ice for a shot. Comrie cleaned up Park's rebound chance and earned the game's first star, scoring just 9.6 seconds before a shootout would have taken place. Most of the 15,301 in attendance went absolutely nuts, still standing from the amazing 4-on-3 penalty kill they had just witnessed.
With the two points the Islanders temporarily vaulted into playoff positioning, although, as mentioned, Ottawa is on the docket for Thursday night. Hold on to your hats!
And now, as promised, some World Juniors notes:
* When we last left you, we stated that Islanders prospects had tallied 4 goals and an assist on the day. Well, Lew Serviss, a New York Times editor, left us a very nice note detailing our omission of Tomas Marcinko's goal for Slovakia, making it 5 goals and 1 helper! Thank you very much, Mr. Serviss.
* Team Canada's wunderkinds John Tavares and Steven Stamkos (affectionately called "Wonderboy" and "Young Nasty Man" by us, in case you missed it in an earlier post) are off to a roaring start. Canada defeated the host Czech Republic team 3-0, with Tavares scoring twice and Stamkos assisting on all 3 goals. If your favorite NHL team is at the bottom of the standings, you may want to hope these two stay healthy. Tavares is 2009 draft-eligible while Stamkos will likely go first overall in '08.
* Russia defeated Finland 7-4 in the final game of the day. Russia appears to have a very strong team and may challenge Canada for the gold.
* Okposo and Team USA will be off Thursday, but hit the ice on Friday at noon (EST) to take on Switzerland.