ISLES GIVE BIRTH TO A BERTH
After a long labor, they finally earn spot in the playoffs for 3rd
straight year with win at Carolina
BY ALAN HAHN
April 3, 2004
RALEIGH, N.C. - They did it their way, these Islanders. The last
Stanley Cup playoff spot in the East was finally clinched Friday
night with a 6-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
With 38 wins and 90 points, the Islanders will be at least the eighth
seed and their potential first-round opponent will be the Tampa Bay
Lightning. And they don't have to worry about the pesky Buffalo
"You don't see it yet, but I'm happy," said coach Steve Stirling, who
flashed a rare postgame smile. "But more important, I'm happy for the
24 guys in that room. Because they didn't need to hear from anybody
that they backed in, or didn't get in. They needed to win their way
in and they did."
The Playoff Payoff paid off for those 1,500 fans who bought season
tickets for next year. Free hockey awaits you. Playoff hockey awaits
the Islanders for the third straight season.
"It's awesome," said defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who scored two more
goals and had eight in his past nine games. "It's so fun when you're
going to where you want to be. It took us a little longer than we
hoped, but we're excited."
The Islanders took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, but a four-
goal explosion in the second settled matters just as the ninth-place
Sabres took the ice in a game they would lose at Toronto. Mariusz
Czerkawski, Alexei Yashin, Trent Hunter and Aucoin each scored to
chase goalie Kevin Weekes from the game and chase away the Sabres
dreams of a miracle run. By the time Buffalo lost, the Islanders were
out of the arena headed for the airport.
"It was good tonight to take care of our own business and not have to
wait for Buffalo to lose," said goalie Rick DiPietro, who earned his
The Czerkawski-Yashin- Oleg Kvasha line, which Stirling reunited
recently, sparkled when the Islanders needed it most. Kvasha, who had
three assists in the game, was a workhorse all night and his efforts
set up all three goals scored by the line.
The first came on a power play. Kvasha chased down his own dump-in,
recovered it and moved the puck back to Kenny Jonsson at the point.
Jonsson returned it to Kvasha at the left wall and Kvasha hit Yashin
in the left circle. Yashin quickly feathered a backhand through the
slot that Czerkawski easily one-timed at 11:57 for a 1-0 lead.
Aucoin made it 2-0 exactly a minute later when he picked off a cross-
ice pass and buried his own rebound. Jesse Boulerice cut it to a 2-1
at 14:19. It then appeared the Hurricanes had tied it at 1:04 of the
second when Josef Vasicek flipped a rebound over a sprawled DiPietro.
But referee Craig Spada claimed he blew his whistle before the shot
and the goal was waved off.
It was to be a critical turning point. Just 59 seconds later,
Czerkawski beat Weekes off a rush with Yashin and Kvasha to make it 3-
1. Yashin then completed a power move around Weekes - set up by more
work from Kvasha along the wall - to make it 4-1 at 8:46. Forty-four
seconds later, Hunter scored his 25th goal of the season off a feed
from Dave Scatchard to make it 5-1.
With Arturs Irbe in goal for the Hurricanes, Aucoin capped the
Islanders' onslaught with a rocket from the right point at 14:02.
Stirling proudly said the goals were scored by "poise and patience,"
bywords of his coaching philosophy.
Carolina rallied for three goals in the third to make it interesting,
but the Islanders weren't surprised. DiPietro faced an Erik Cole
penalty shot attempt that sailed wide and faced several point-blank
scoring chances. "There was no quit in Carolina," Stirling said.
There'll be no quitting after Sunday's regular-season finale against
the Philadelphia Flyers at Nassau Coliseum, either. The playoffs
begin next week.
And finally, as Stirling gladly pointed out - "there's an 'X' beside
the name." That's the indication in the standings that a team has
clinched the playoffs.
ISLANDERS 6, HURRICANES 4
A glossary of terms that relate to the Islanders' playoff history:
J.P. - In their first playoff appearance, the Islanders upset the
Rangers in the first round when J.P. Parise scored in overtime on
April 11, 1975. In the quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins,
J.P. and the young Isles then became only the second team in pro
sports history to win a seven-game series after trailing 3-0.
Dynasty - The Islanders own four Stanley Cups, all of them won in
succession from 1980-83. They are the only U.S.-based NHL team to
have claimed four straight Cups. That run also included 19
consecutive playoff series victories, an unprecedented mark in pro
OT - Bob Nystrom clinched the first Cup on May 24, 1980, with an
overtime goal in Game 6 of the Finals against the Philadelphia
Flyers. All-time, the Islanders own overtime in the playoffs. They
have won 29 of 39 overtime playoff games.
Seventeen - The number of playoff appearances the Islanders have made
in the past 30 seasons. The most recent run is three consecutive,
which is the most since the team earned 14 straight bids from 1975-
Even 7th possible
BY ALAN HAHN
April 3, 2004
RALEIGH, N.C. - Now that the Islanders are in the playoffs for sure,
they say they don't care whom they play.
"Right now, I don't think anybody's thinking about that," goalie Rick
DiPietro said. "We're just excited we got in."
After Friday night's action, the Islanders are in the eighth spot,
which sets up a first-round matchup against the top-seeded Tampa Bay
Lightning. The Islanders could move past the Canadiens for the
seventh seed if Montreal loses to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and
the Islanders beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at Nassau
A seventh seed would set up a matchup against Boston or Ottawa. But
nothing will be settled in the East brackets until after Sunday's
"I think we match up pretty good," Adrian Aucoin said. "I've said
this a million times, if we play the way we can, I'm not too
concerned about who we play against."
That's the attitude the Islanders will take going into their third
straight playoff appearance. They've accomplished nothing, other than
achieving their expected goal of a playoff berth. It's what comes
next that will determine if this was a successful season.
"I think last year pretty much says it all, you know," Aucoin said,
referring to the five-game loss to the Ottawa Senators in the first
round. "It was disappointing kind of just showing up. I think this
year, we expect a lot more. We're setting our goals a lot higher."
No kudos from Peter
Carolina coach Peter Laviolette didn't have any words of
congratulations for his former team after the Islanders clinched
their third straight playoff berth and the first without him.
"They're not a concern of mine," Laviolette said. "One way or the
other, I really don't care what they do. My concern is this team and
how we perform."
Arron Asham took a high-stick to the throat late in the first period
and didn't return. No injury was identified after the game, but Asham
appeared OK . . . Goalie Wade Dubielewicz was named the AHL's Rookie
of the Year for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers
ISLANDERS 6, HURRICANES 4
Reunited Line Sends Isles to Victory and to Playoffs
By RON DICKER
Published: April 3, 2004
RALEIGH, N.C., April 2 â" Islanders Coach Steve Stirling recently
reunited Oleg Kvasha, Aleksei Yashin and Mariusz Czerkawski on a line
to snap them out of their prolonged funk. They played like old times
Friday night against the Carolina Hurricanes and helped catapult the
Islanders into the playoffs for the third straight season. Like old
Passing with vigor, the line produced two goals by Czerkawski, one by
Yashin and a total of six assists in a 6-4 victory, helping to clinch
at least the Eastern Conference's eighth and last berth in the
"That's what we've been expecting," Czerkawski said. "We've talked
about this and we were hoping it would come. It's a good sign with
the playoffs coming."
The Islanders' eighth victory in 11 games finally eliminated the
Buffalo Sabres, who had closed an 8-point deficit to 3 points in
March. The Islanders (38-29-10-4), who have one regular-season game
left, at home against Philadelphia on Sunday, are likely to play top-
seeded Tampa Bay in the first round. But a victory over the Flyers
combined with a Montreal loss to Buffalo on Saturday would move the
Islanders up to the seventh seeding.
The Islanders were too busy exhaling to worry about their first-round
opponent. When time ran out here, they calmly lined up to
congratulate goalie Rick DiPietro (23 saves) as if they had just
beaten Pittsburgh in November.
"I think it's a sense of relief that we finally wrapped the job up
and did it on our terms," DiPietro said. "We did it with a win rather
than wait for Buffalo to lose."
The Islanders, who made the playoffs regularly from 1975 to 1988,
attacked Carolina goalie Kevin Weekes with such fury that Coach Peter
Laviolette, who guided the Islanders to their previous two postseason
berths before being fired last spring, replaced Weekes with Arturs
Irbe in the middle of the second period. Sarcastic cheers rang out
from the crowd of 15,258 at RBC Center. The Islanders' entire six-
goal output resulted from just 20 shots. They had 27 over all.
Adrian Aucoin had two goals, and Trent Hunter and Mattias Weinhandl
After the Hurricanes scored three goals in the first 14:14 of the
third period, DiPietro stopped a penalty shot by Erik Cole that could
have trimmed the Islanders' advantage to two goals with 5 minutes 46
"I'm happier for the 24 guys in the room," said Stirling, who
repeated Laviolette's feat of guiding the team to the playoffs in his
rookie season. "It's not about me. It's about them. They're the ones
who block shots, kill penalties and get the hell beat out of them.
I'm just here to guide the ship."
An energized Czerkawski, Kvasha and Yashin put the Islanders on
cruise control for much of the game. The premier line on the
Islanders' playoff team two seasons ago, the three combined for 18
goals in the first 13 games this season before cooling off.
Just two games ago, Yashin, the team's highest-paid player, who had
struggled after a wrist injury, was relegated to the fourth line.
Going into Friday night, Czerkawski had not notched a goal in 16
games; now he is tied for the team lead with 25. And Kvasha had
produced only one goal in 15 games.
Kvasha did not have a goal against the Hurricanes (28-34-13-6), but
he did dish out three assists to go with two by Yashin and one for
"When it's on, it's on," Kvasha said.
After a month of tension, the Islanders no longer have to look over
their shoulders. They can look ahead.
Isles clinch with early surge
Mariusz leads way
STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
RALEIGH, N.C. - Mariusz Czerkawski broke out of his slump just in
time to punch the Islanders' ticket to the playoffs.
Czerkawski broke a 16-game goal drought with a pair that helped send
the Isles on their way to the playoffs with a 6-4 victory over the
Carolina Hurricanes last night.
The Isles clinched against their former coach, Peter Laviolette, who
was fired after last season despite back-to-back trips to the
"I'm happy, but more important I'm happy for the 24 guys in that
room," said coach Steve Stirling, who was at the helm for the Isles'
AHL affiliate in Bridgeport last season. "They didn't need to hear
from anybody that they backed in or didn't get in. They needed to win
their way in and they did."
The Isles have won eight of their last 11 games, and would have
clinched last night even if they hadn't won as the Buffalo Sabres
fell, 2-0, to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With 8:03 left in the first period, Czerkawski put the Isles on the
board with a power-play goal, his first tally with the man advantage
since Feb. 18 against the Penguins.
"We wanted to do it on our own, not waiting for anybody else to do
it," Czerkawski said. "We wanted to control the game to the end."
Defenseman Adrian Aucoin added his 11th goal of the season a minute
later and the Isles were on their way.
The Hurricanes struck back quickly with a goal from Jesse Boulerice,
but the Isles responded when Czerkawski scored his 25th goal of the
season 2:13 into the second period.
It was the fourth multi-goal game of the season for Czerkawski, but
just the second since October. After scoring eight goals in the first
month of the season and 16 by the All-Star break, Czerkawski has
struggled, but will need to make his presence felt if the Isles are
to advance in the postseason.
And after Czerkawski's second goal made it 3-1, the Isles scored
three more goals to take a five-goal lead at the second intermission.
But Laviolette's new team did not let his former team into the
playoffs without a fight. Boulerice scored again and Rod Brind'Amour
found the net to get Carolina back into it, but Rick DiPietro saved a
penalty shot from Erik Cole with 5:46 left to stem the tide. The
Hurricanes got a goal from Eric Staal in the final two minutes, but
it was too late.
"We just didn't execute," Laviolette said.
With 90 points, the Isles are now within one point of the Montreal
Canadiens for seventh place. If Montreal loses at Buffalo today and
the Isles beat the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow at Nassau Coliseum,
the Isles will grab the No. 7 seed.
ISLANDERS CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT
By EVAN GROSSMAN
April 3, 2004 -- RALEIGH - They did it.
With one game left in what has been a grueling, up-and-down season
consisting of many struggles and triumphs for the Islanders, they
clinched their third consecutive playoff appearance here last night
with a 6-4 victory over former coach Peter Laviolette and the
The two points earned by the No. 8 Islanders eliminated Buffalo's
chances of catching them this weekend and vaulted them into a first-
round series against an opponent that has yet to be determined. The
Islanders, who would face No. 1 Tampa if the season ended today,
still have a chance to pass Montreal for the No. 7 spot with a
Canadiens' loss today and one more win tomorrow in the regular-season
finale at the Coliseum against Philadelphia.
"The 'X' is beside the name," first-year coach Steve Stirling said,
referring to the standings that indicate playoff participants.
By the way the Islanders played from the opening draw last night, it
was evident they were playing to win and to qualify for the
postseason on their own accord. Even with a loss, there still would
have been a chance to make it with a Buffalo loss last night to
Toronto. But on this night, the Isles were not waiting for help to
come from someplace else other than their own locker room, as they
did last year when they backed into the tournament on an off-day,
thanks to a Rangers loss to the Devils.
As evidenced for two periods last night by the Islanders, you cannot
back in when you're skating full steam ahead.
"You don't see it yet, but I'm happy," Stirling said. "But more
importantly, I'm happy for the 24 guys in that room because they
didn't need to hear it from anybody that they backed in, or didn't
get in. They didn't need to hear it, they needed to win their way in
and I'm happy for them."
Adrian Aucoin, no short of brilliant over the last month, and Mariusz
Czerkawski each scored two goals as the Islanders lambasted the
Hurricanes, who had handed the Isles a 3-2 Coliseum defeat less than
a week ago. Oleg Kvasha, who skated like a wild man, collected three
assists, while his linemates, Czerkawski and Alexei Yashin, made
contributions on the attack that had been a long time coming.
Czerkawski, who tied Trent Hunter for the team lead with 25 goals,
hadn't scored one in 17 games. Kvasha had one goal in the previous 15
games, while Hunter, who made it 5-1 midway through the second
period, scored only twice in his previous 23.
"It's awesome," Aucoin said of clinching. "It's so fun when you know
you're going to where you want to be. It took us a little longer than
we hoped, but we're excited."
* Arron Asham left the game in the second period after being cut on
his neck by a stick blade . . . DiPietro made 23 saves, including one
on an unsuccessful Erik Cole penalty shot in the third . . . Isles
finished the season 13-18-7-3 on the road . . . The last time Isles
made the playoffs three years in a row was 1987-88, when they
qualified for the 14th straight year.
Canes find no comfort
Loss to Islanders completes 15-17-5-4 home record
By LUKE DECOCK, Staff Writer
RALEIGH -- If this is how the Carolina Hurricanes exit the Triangle
stage -- for a minimum of six months or much, much longer -- Friday
wasn't the kind of night that lent itself to wonderful memories.
There have been great times at the RBC Center, the Canes' two trips
to the playoffs foremost among them. The final home game of the
season wasn't one of them, as the Canes capped their second straight
season without a playoff berth with a 6-4 loss to the New York
Jesse Boulerice scored twice for Carolina, the first two-goal game of
his career, but it was the five Islanders goals that came between
Boulerice's goals that mattered.
That there will be no playoffs for the Canes this season was apparent
weeks ago. The Islanders meanwhile, assured themselves of a third
straight trip to the postseason with the win. The past two came with
Peter Laviolette behind the bench.
Fired last spring, he was behind Carolina's bench Friday. And not
very happy with what he saw in the second period, when the Islanders
scored five straight goals to turn a 2-1 game into a blowout and
leave the Canes with a 15-17-5-4 record at the RBC Center.
"We're not here to play hard in certain periods," Laviolette
said. "We're here to win home games. The bottom line is if we had a
better home record we would be battling for a playoff spot, but we've
failed miserably here. It's something we have to take a lot more
pride in next year."
The Islanders did most of their damage after an apparent Carolina
goal was waved off by referee Craig Spada.
Josef Vasicek thought he cracked the 20-goal mark for the first time
in his career and tied the score 2-2 when Ryan Bayda poked an Eric
Staal rebound from under sprawling Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro and
onto Vasicek's stick.
But Spada lost sight of the puck under DiPietro and blew his whistle
after Vasicek's shot had crossed the goal line.
Although referees are allowed to stop play at the moment they intend
to blow the whistle, not when the whistle actually is blown, the time
span between when the puck was under DiPietro and when Vasicek put it
in the goal was a lengthy one.
"We can't use that as an excuse for losing an assignment or missing a
coverage or turnovers," Laviolette said.
The Canes proceeded to produce an excess of all three errors. The
Islanders scored 69 seconds later when Mariusz Czerkawski walked past
Aaron Ward, then they added three more goals in the next 12 minutes.
Kevin Weekes was pulled after the fifth goal came on the Islanders'
18th shot, although defensive breakdowns left Weekes stranded on all
The Canes scored three goals on seven shots in the third period as
the Islanders luxuriated within the safety of their five-goal lead,
and the Canes nearly had a fourth when Erik Cole was awarded a
penalty shot with 5:46 to play. Cole's attempt went wide, a miss that
loomed large when Staal ended a 33-game goal drought with 48.6
seconds to play.
Still, the late surge couldn't erase the errors of the second period,
the same way Carolina's 8-7-0-2 record in March and April, with one
game left to play at the Florida Panthers on Sunday, couldn't erase
the errors of the first five months.
"No matter when we come back, this team has to build on the way we
played over the last month or so," defenseman Sean Hill said. "We
have to remember the way we played and how we did it with hard work
and playing within the system."
With a lockout possible when the league's collective bargaining
agreement with the NHL Players Association expires in September,
there's no telling whether next season will begin on time. One
offshore gambling site is offering even money that a lockout will
last one to four months.
If there is a lockout, there's no telling how long it will last -- or
what the NHL may look like when it ends. The longer it goes, the less
chance all 30 franchises survive, Carolina included.
Perhaps the season will start on time. Perhaps the Canes will
challenge for a playoff spot for the first time in three years,
whenever the season may begin. Perhaps.
But if this was it for hockey in North Carolina, for the summer or
for longer, Friday's drubbing was no way to go out.