Czerkawski does the trick as Isles end on high note
By Alan Hahn. STAFF WRITER
ISLANDERS 3 PANTHERS 2 Rarities abounded yesterday. A home win for
the Islanders. A hat trick by one of their players. A postgame
celebration befitting an accomplished team.
And snow in April? Mariusz Czerkawski capped his finest season as a
professional with a hat trick as he reached the 35-goal mark in a 3-2
Islanders win over the Florida Panthers in the regular-season finale
for both teams.
The Panthers, who finished fifth in the Eastern Conference, advance
to face the Devils in the first round of the playoffs; the Islanders
head to their sixth straight offseason without a playoff berth. Yet
after the game, as the players showed their gratitude for the
remaining fanswho stuck with them through another losing season -
there was an announced crowd of 9,316 -a sense of hope swept through
dusty, decrepit Nassau Coliseum.
Hope that has risen from the impending sale of the franchise to Long
Island billionaire Charles Wang, who is expected to officially
announce the purchase this week. Hope in a team of young talent that
grew together under coach Butch Goring and showed progress along the
way, including an 11-15-3 mark since the All-Star break. That was
accomplished even with a host of season-ending injuries to key
players. "It's a real nice stepping-stone for next year," Goring
said. "We're not going to take steps backward. We're taking steps
forward." The one player who took the greatest step forward this
season was Czerkawski, an oft-maligned, underachieving scorer who
existed in relative obscurity behind Zigmund Palffy, Trevor Linden,
Robert Reichel and Bryan Smolinski, the top four scorers from last
season, each of whom was traded away in a salary purge. That left the
offensive burden on the slight shoulders of the 27-year-old
Czerkawski, who had never totaled more than 26 goals in a season and
had 21 and 12 in his previous two seasons with the Islanders.
It was all the opportunity Czerkawski ever needed. He flew out to a
15-goal start in his first 41 games and then went on a ferocious tear
in the second half of the season, netting 20 goals and 43 points in
the final 41 games, including nine goals in the final nine games.
"He pretty much carried the team all year," said linemate Brad
Isbister, who made a nice backhand assist to Czerkawski for the third
goal at 7:13 of the third period to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead.
"Everyone wanted to see 'Chow' do that," he said of the hat trick,
the first of the season for the Islanders and the third of
After he scored his second of the game at 14:08 of the second to give
the Islanders a 2-1 lead, he decided he'd go for the hat trick, his
first since Feb. 19, 1997, when he played for Edmonton.
The Polish right wing stole the show from superstar sniper Pavel
Bure. Bure gave Florida a 1-0 lead at 8:18 of the first with his 58th
of the season and thought he had No. 59 at 12:55 of the third, but
the goal later was awarded to Mike Sillinger. Bure missed a $500,000
bonus in his contract by two goals.
The Islanders earned their 24th win and 58 points, which matches the
totals posted last season by a team that cost $12 million more and
was far less intriguing. "The collection in the room now, for the
first time since I've been here, are on the same page in terms of
attitude," general manager Mike Milbury said. "I think if you talk to
anyone around the league, they will agree this team has a bright