September 13, 2011

Islanders rookies exact revenge

By Kirk Luedeke

UNIONDALE, N.Y.— The New York Islanders futures struck quickly and never looked back in a 7-2 win over the Boston Bruins rookies in the second of two exhibition games played on Long Island. 

Craig Cunningham in action against New York Islanders rookies (Bruce Bennett via Getty Images)

Ryan Strome scored a pair of first period goals, while Casey Cizikas also tallied twice in the game to pace the young Islanders.Tyler McNeely, Nino Niederreiter and Justin DiBenedettoalso scored. Goaltender Anders Nilsson wasn’t tested all that much by the Boston shooters who looked out of synch all night (despite outshooting the Isles), but when he was, stood as tall as his 6-foot-5 frame would allow, stopping every all but two of Boston’s shots and keeping the B’s off the scoreboard for the first 45 minutes of the contest.

Boston got goals from Craig Cunningham and Anthony Camarain the third period to prevent the shutout, but the team wasn’t able to get much going offensively for the majority of the contest.

“I thought their goalie played real well tonight,” Cunningham said after the game. “It was just nice to get one by him.”

Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, who was bench boss for both rookie games, wasn’t making excuses for his team’s loss the night after an 8-5 victory. At the same time, he cited fatigue from an extended morning skate and the fact that a young team has a harder time focusing for a strong start in the second of back-to-back games as contributing factors for the letdown before turning his attention to the opposition.

“They have a nice lineup over there with some skill and they showed it,” Cassidy said, referencing the Islanders. “I think playing in front of fans, losing last night obviously, they were ready to go. More than we were.”

Fans were treated to pyrotechnics and fisticuffs to begin the affair, as the first three puck drops at center ice resulted in gloves coming off and players squaring off.

Islanders forward Brett Gallant started it off, taking on Tyler Randell one second into the match perhaps as retribution for Randell’s hit on Rhett Rakhshani in the first game. The hard bodycheck knocked the former Denver University standout out of action with a concussion. A pair of Bruins camp invites in Conor Stokesand Kevan Miller also squared off on consecutive faceoffs, battling Benn Olson and Art Bidlevskii in spirited, extended bouts.

“It’s tough to say what happened,” Cunningham said of what started the fisticuffs. “Obviously, great job by those three guys that fought. That’s a tough job to do when called upon and I thought those guys did a real good job.”

Unfortunately for Boston, after the flurry of fights concluded, it didn’t take long for the Islanders to start an offensive fireworks show of their own with the puck.

McNeely, who starred at Northeastern University, scored the first goal of the night on a partial breakaway, scoring at 6:06 of the first after he protected the puck from a diving Boston defender and then slipped it through Michael Hutchinson’s wickets to bring the strains of “Live is Life” by Opus down from the Nassau Coliseum rafters.

After Zach McKelvie took an interference penalty a few seconds later, Strome netted a power play marker to make it 2-0, Isles at 7:20. Hutchinson misplayed a dump-in, which bounced out front, catching him out of the net. Although McNeely’s shot on net hit a Bruin, the puck bounced out to Strome, who buried it for his first goal of the two-game set since the Isles took him with the fifth overall selection in the June draft.

Strome made it 3-0 when he cruised through the slot to the top of the right faceoff circle and fired home a bullet of a wrister that beat Hutchinson high to the blocker side for his second of the night.

Cizikas scored to put the Isles up 4-0 after taking a pass between the circles from Kirill Kabanov and zipping it past Hutchinson.

The B’s futures tried to get something going in the second when they began the frame with the man advantage. Although they moved the puck well, Nilsson made several important stops to keep them off the board.

Stokes got the B’s in some hot water when he took a double-minor for spearing early in the second period, and Niederreiter’s power play goal made it 5-0 Islanders at 4:01.

DiBenedetto added another Islanders goal late in the second period to make it 6-0 at 18:52.

The third period featured a new goaltender for Boston as Jared DeMichiel took to the net, but home team wasn’t through. Cizikas got another feed from Kabanov, walked around the sprawling DeMichiel and put the puck home to stake the Isles to a 7-0 lead at 4:18 of the final frame.

From there, DeMichiel held the fort well and even made a sensational glove save on Kabanov after the skilled Russian walked in and ripped a high shot that he thought had gone in.

Cunningham broke Nilsson’s shutout bid less than a minute later when he fired a shot that found the twine, unassisted at 5:02. He also assisted on Camara’s goal, getting the puck to the net so that his teammate could bang in the rebound with time winding down.

“The guys kept playing,” Cassidy said. “They played hard and it was a pretty even game (after the first period).”

The Bruins rookies head back to Boston where they will have more practices before some of them face the next big challenge: trying to earn a spot on the NHL roster when the veterans report later this week.

“It’s been good,” said former Miami University star Carter Camper of the rookie camp experience. “We had a good week of practices and yesterday went better for us than today. These games are tough with everyone going 100 percent, everyone going crazy, so the games were a challenge.”

Things will only get tougher for the B’s prospects from here on out, but the two-game set was a good indicator of things to come.