Series (Game 3 of 6)

New York leads 3-1

Game 1: Saturday, October 25th
Game 2: Wednesday, October 29th
Game 3: Wednesday, December 31st
Game 4: Wednesday, February 18th
Game 5: Sunday, February 29th
Game 6: Tuesday, March 2nd

Islanders 6

(19-15-1, 41 pts)

Penguins 1

(9-20-3, 26 pts)

2:00 PM ET, December 31, 2003

Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1 2 3 T
NYI 3 2 16
PIT 0 1 01

J. Blake (Islanders - LW): Goals: 2, Assists: 2

T. Hunter (Islanders - RW): Goals: 2, Assists: 0

A. Aucoin (Islanders - D): Goals: 0, Assists: 2

Blake notches two goals, two assists

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.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press