They were ready from the start at Barclays Center. Brooklyn was officially hockey crazy when the Islanders finally played their first game at their new home arena on Atlantic Avenue. What the 15,795 got was a entertaining home opener against the defending champs. The Blackhawks spoiled the party winning 3-2 in overtime on frequent target Patrick Kane’s power play goal.
”It would have been nice obviously to get a win but I think we played well,” Islanders forward Matt Martin told the Associated Press. ”Took a little bit to find our legs and get into it, but it’s our first game as a full group, I mean we played a pretty hockey team there tonight who already had a game under their belts.”
Twice, the Islanders fought back from one-goal deficits. Before they dropped the puck, an emotional opening night ceremony included a nice tribute to Al Arbour. The legendary Isles coach passed away on Aug. 28. He coached the franchise to four consecutive Stanley Cups and a NHL playoff record 19 straight series victories. A mark that will never be broken in the salary cap era.
As for the game, it was back and forth. Without starting goalie Jaroslav Halak, who remains day-to-day, the Islanders started new backup Thomas Greiss. The former Pen acquitted himself well finishing with 32 saves. Waiver pick up Jean-Francois Berube backed up.
There was a little trivia in the first period. Artem Anisimov became the answer scoring the first goal at Barclays Center. The ex-Jacket stole the puck from Brock Nelson and walked in and beat Greiss with a nifty backhand top shelf for a unassisted shorthanded goal. Nelson carelessly gave away the puck at center ice allowing Anisimov to break in and score his first as a Blackhawk at 13:28 of the first.
You knew John Tavares would be a factor in the first home game in Brooklyn. With his team still trailing early in the second stanza, the Islanders captain steered home his own rebound with 14:38 left. Taking a Johnny Boychuk pass at the side of the net, he got one low shot on Hawks goalie Corey Crawford and deposited the rebound for his 175th career goal. He has 402 points in 433 games.
Throughout the contest, Islander fans gave it to Kane every time he touched the puck. There were chants of “No Means No,” from the Brooklyn crowd in reference to the controversial Chicago star’s off-ice trouble stemming from a incident this past summer at his home in Western New York. Kane has maintained his innocence after being accused of rape. Following tests that revealed no rape, it’s now a sexual assault case. It still hasn’t been decided if it’ll go to a grand jury.
In the mean time, Kane continues to play hockey at a high level. He scored his first of the game from Hawks captain Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith to put the guests up 2-1 with 4:49 left in the second.
The oldest new Islander came through at the start of the third. Marek Zidlicky scored his first from Nelson and Nikolay Kulemin to tie the score at 1:18. The 38-year old Czech defenseman’s shot from the left point went past a screened Crawford. Credit Mikhail Grabovski for distracting the Hawks starter. Zidlicky paired up with Brian Strait getting 20 shifts (15:16) from Isles coach Jack Capuano.
Neither team sat back. They combined for 22 shots in a entertaining period exchanging chances. On one end, Greiss made some key stops while on the other Crawford stoned Grabovski on a odd-man rush. With less than 20 seconds left, Tavares had a dangerous opportunity to be the hometown hero but missed wide from the right circle.
The first ever game at Barclays Center went to the 3-on-3 roller derby. Unlike the madness that was the Flyers and Lightning on Thursday, the first minute was more tentatively played. That changed when Marian Hossa broke in forcing Nick Leddy to take a slashing penalty. It was the right call.
That gave the Hawks a 4-on-3 power play. It didn’t take long for them to capitalize. On a diagonal play, Keith passed across for Hossa who moved the puck to Kane. Kane centered in front for Toews but the puck deflected off a Islander skate for the winner 1:49 into overtime.
”Good crowd, still a loud building, so it was fun,” Frans Nielsen said afterwards. In a scheduling oddity, the teams will do it again tonight in Chicago for a rare home-and-home despite being in opposite conferences. We like it. So should the fans of both teams.
Battle Of New York 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (assisted on 1st Kane tally and was in front on the second)
2nd Star-John Tavares, Islanders (scored 1st goal for home team in new building)
1st Star-Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (2 goals including the OT winner at 1:49)