Gretzky Sets Record in Win Over Isles|
By Ray Van Horn, Jr. Copyright 1999
Wayne Gretzky edged Gordie Howe as hockey's all-time goal scorer with his 1072nd goal, while leading the New York Rangers to a 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders.
In actuality, the troubled and roster-thinned Islanders played a tough 1-1 game against their hated rivals prior to surrendering two late game scores.
A sluggish, scoreless first period in which the Isles spent a great deal of time in the Rangers' zone was underscored by the Isles' inability to capitalize, managing only 4 shots on goal versus the Rangers' 14.
Petr Nedved left the game in the middle of the opening period after suffering a sprained rib. Nedved also bore a nasty gash under his right eye, sustained by Eric Lindros' high stick to his face in the Rangers' loss to Philadelphia the prior evening.
The second period was a reminiscent throwback to the Islanders/Rangers grudge matches of old. The action cranked up as both teams delivered hard checks and scrapped through wild melees in the trenches. A brawl between Rich Brennan and Bryan Smolinski erupted late in the period.
The Rangers scored at 3:21 of the second from an Adam Graves tip-in past Islanders goalie Wade Flaherty, who was caught out of his crease. John McLean further foiled Flaherty by blocking his view, as Gretzky set up Graves' 36th goal of the season. Gretzky picked up his 50th assist on the play.
The Isles responded as Mariusz Czerkawski punched through his 15th of the year at 8:53 of the same period, directly after Mike Richter had thrilled the crowd with three consecutive spectacular saves.
The highlight of the game, of course, came at 17:53 of the third period, as Wayne Gretzky nicked his record-setting 1072nd WHA/NHL goal past a dogpile in front of the Islanders' net. The unassisted score was only Gretzky's 9th of the season, but that point is moot in light of becoming the sport's recognized goal leader.
The faithful at Madison Square Gardens let up with deafening chants of "Gretzky Gretzky" for the remaining two minutes of the game, even as John McLean out-muscled Islander Eric Brewer for an open-net score at 19:17, cementing the Rangers' win.
The Rangers are mathematically alive in the playoff chase as they improved to 31-33-10 and added 2 points to give them 72 in the Eastern Conference. Boston currently holds onto the coveted 8th spot with 77 points, leading Florida and the Rangers.
The evening belonged to Gretzky, however, who, when asked earlier about returning for another season, replied, "Yeah, I want to come back. Right now, I'm just concerned about helping my team through the next nine games."
Copyright©1999 The HockeyNut