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Blake notches two goals, two assists

12/31/2003

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Any New York Islanders' worries about a letdown were answered in the game's opening minute. After that,
there was no letting up against a team considerably inferior to
those they've been playing recently.

Jason Blake had two goals and two assists, and rookie Trent
Hunter had his third two-goal game, leading the streaking Islanders
past the Penguins 6-1 Wednesday.

The Islanders closed out their most successful December in 20
years by winning their sixth in a row, three on the road. They beat
the rival New Jersey Devils three times while going 10-4-0-1 during
the month -- more wins than they had in December and January
combined last season.

"They are playing better than anyone in the league right now,"
Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said.

Blake's four points matched a career high set twice previously
and began with his goal 57 seconds in, setting the tone for the
Islanders' second rout of the Penguins in their three meetings this
season.

"It can be tougher to play these guys than New Jersey, because
of the record, so we had a goal to come out and have a good first
shift," Blake said, referring to a line that also includes Dave
Scatchard and Mark Parrish.

Blake grabbed the puck as it deflected off defenseman Martin
Strbak's ankle and drove to the net to beat Caron.

"That (Blake) line came out flying and it definitely creates a
lot of energy for us, and the rest of the team feeds off it,"
Hunter said. "Our confidence is a lot higher now. We'd get down a
goal or two before and the wind would go out of our sails, now
we're sticking to our game plan no matter what the score is."

Blake's early goal pleased coach Steve Stirling, who worried
about a possible letdown after his team beat the Devils twice and
the Maple Leafs once in a three-day span from Dec. 26-29.

"I think they realized you've got to come out and take care of
business ... if you beat New Jersey and come in here and lose, then
the New Jersey game doesn't mean a lot," he said.

Garth Snow didn't get much work as he turned aside 21 of 22
shots in improving to 10-2-0-1 in his last 13 games. Penguins
goalie Sebastien Caron, who had 31 saves Monday in shutting out
Chicago 1-0, was pulled after allowing five goals on 22 shots in
the first two periods.

"You're going to have nights like this in the course of the
season," Olczyk said. "One of these nights is tough to
overcome."

Blake got his second of the game and 11th of the season with
only two seconds left in the first period, knocking in the puck as
it lay in the crease just after Caron abandoned the net to try to
make a play in the corner.

Hunter had made it 2-0 midway through the first period with a
gift goal that deflected off defenseman Dan Focht's skate. Hunter
also scored a power-play goal in the second period on a one-timer
from the left circle off Adrian Aucoin's cross-ice pass.

Hunter leads NHL rookies with 14 goals and 10 assists and has 12
points in his last 13 games.

"No, I definitely didn't expect to start like this," Hunter
said. "I just wanted to come in and be a steady everyday player."

Oleg Kvasha and Scatchard also scored for Islanders. Kvasha's
goal was the league-high 10th short-handed goal allowed by
Pittsburgh; by comparison, the Philadelphia Flyers have yet to
allow a goal with a man advantage.

Game notes
The 1983-84 Islanders went 10-3-2 in December 1983. ... The
Islanders are 32-0-4-0 in the last 36 games they lead after two
periods. ... The Penguins are 1-4-1-1 in their last seven games.
... The Islanders were 2-9-2-1 on the road before their current
three-game road winning streak. ... Wednesday was the 14th
anniversary of Mario Lemieux's five-goal game against the Devils in
Pittsburgh in which he scored every possible way (even-strength,
power play, short-handed, penalty shot, empty net). ... Pittsburgh
(9-20-5-3) has won consecutive games only once all season. ... The
Islanders beat the Penguins 7-2 on Oct. 25. ... The game was played
in the afternoon because the Penguins have an afternoon game
Thursday in Nashville. ... Aucoin was a plus-3, raising his
league-leading plus-minus rating to plus-26. ... The Islanders are
12-3-1-1 when Scatchard plays. He missed 20 games with a shoulder
injury.