Friday, February 29, 2008

Hunter sparks Isles past Thrashers

While the Rangers were busy continuing their winning ways down in Raleigh, another resurgent New York team was getting it done in Atlanta.

Despite blowing a 3-0 lead and a 4-3 one late, the Islanders came out with an important 5-4 OT victory over the Thrashers last night courtesy of Trent Hunter's stick. The 27 year-old grinding right winger who recently re-signed with the club for a five-year $10 million deal (bargain much?) notched his ninth of the season just 69 seconds into the extra session to give his team their third consecutive win and seventh in the last nine.

For some reason, after Atlanta won a defensive draw, they had a brutal turnover allowing Islander pivot Josef Vasicek to steal the puck and find a wide open Hunter all alone in front. He knew what to do burying one upstairs past Kari Lehtonen to keep his club's playoff chances very much alive.

Hunter also assisted on Vasicek's 14th in the first as the Isles got the first three of the topsy turvy contest before a furious Atlanta second period rally knotted it up. When recently re-upped top center Mike Comrie notched his second of the game and 20th overall 3:17 into the final stanza, it looked like the Islanders would win in regulation. However, Rick DiPietro allowed a softie to Holik from 45 feet out with 1:22 left which forced OT.

DiPietro definitely wasn't on top of his game as it wasn't the only bad goal he gave up. Still, he came up with a few big stops in regulation as well which is what made the couple of softies mystifying.

Fortunately for the normally unflappable No.1 goalie, Vasicek to Hunter helped bail him out as his team got a huge two points to stay within a couple of points of eighth place Philly, who won 3-1 over the slumping Sens.

You really have to give this team a ton of credit. Given all the injuries to key personnel such as Brendan Witt, Mike Sillinger, Andy Sutton and Chris Campoli, somehow Ted Nolan's club is still hanging in there.

They have a really vital weekend with back-to-backs at home against the Panthers and Flyers before a crucial home-and-home versus the bitter rival Rangers next week.

These games could go a long way to determining their fate.

Some notes:

-Andy Hilbert notched a goal and an assist. He's done alright after such a dreadful start to his second season in Long Island.

-Defenseman Bryan Berard tallied two primary assists. The former 1996-97 Calder winner still has pretty good vision and can get involved offensively. The Isles need him to do it more consistently down the stretch.

-Deadline pickup Rob Davison assisted on one goal for his first point as an Islander. It was the ex-Shark's first point of the season in 19 games.

-The Atlanta defense was brutal guilty of some pretty costly turnovers which led directly to three NYI goals including Hunter's deciding tally.

-New Thrashers Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen combined for just an assist and a minus-four rating.

-Eric Perrin converted a shorthanded penalty shot pulling off a nifty forehand deke to get the Thrashers on the board. The ex-Bolt also registered an assist.

-Both teams combined to go 0-for-10 on the power play with the Isles taking the collar in seven opportunities.

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