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Islanders-Rangers post-mortem: Avery does a Hasek; Kids are alright

The coolest moment in last night's final edition of Islanders vs. Rangers was Jack Hillen's first NHL goal, on a pretty give-and-go with fellow member of The Future Blake Comeau. An example of Scott Gordon wanting his defensemen to be aggressive and push the play, executed in fine fashion. A nice sign, considering the Islanders iced an injury/suspension/trade-depleted lineup whose payroll was under $20 million and average age was under 26.

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Final - 3.5.2009 1 2 3 Total
New York Rangers 1 1 2 4
New York Islanders 0 1 1 2

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The funniest moment was watching Rangers players pretend like they cared about Sean Avery in his return, as they went through the codified motions to "protect" him after he was hit into the boards by Trent Hunter. Avery put himself in a vulnerable position at the last second before the hit -- and Hunter, no tool, let up in kind. But Avery, who received several hard Islanders checks last night, still played the shot-by-sniper theatrics and lay prone on the ice. Meanwhile, his Rangers team "mates" did the obligatory yet clearly half-hearted swarm around Hunter to pretend like they 1) cared and 2) actually believed Avery was hurt.

The scene reminded me of the many times Dominik Hasek used to play dead after some imagined contact, and his teammates would have to act offended and confront the imagined aggressor because 1) it's part of the hockey code to defend your goalie like your mother (even if your mother is prone to melodrama normally reserved for Jerry Springer), and 2) Hasek's psyche was so flaky that no one wanted to risk upsetting the team's most valuable player by not joining his stage play.

Other than all that, it was a fine game -- a physical and furious pace in contrast to the conservative snoozers that typified the end of Tom Renney era. The Islanders were simply victims of misfortune: Tim Jackman's mistake led to the first goal, Andy Hilbert and Dean McAmmond's collision -- a runner-up for funniest moment -- led to a Gomez-Zherdevn 2-on-1 for another, and Radek Martinek's deflection put English on the puck to cause the final tally. The Rangers had five power plays to the Isles' two, and the Rags converted on two of them. That was the difference. Yann Danis couldn't be faulted on these goals.

Despite the Islanders' $20 million lineup, promising signs were everywhere, from Hillen to Comeau (his 5th goal) to the routinely relentless Kyle Okposo. Big Jesse Joensuu has a little (big?) Sean Bergenheim in him, in a good fighting Finn way. Even emergency call-up Joel "The Wrecker" Rechlicz nabbed an assist and 3:52 TOI (we'll call that "a Fritz") in his NHL debut.

We've lost the season series {gulp} 5-1 and did nothing to dent the Rags' playoff chances, but we got one more glimpse of why future seasons will be different. In a rebuilding season's post-trade deadline denouement, that's the kind of solace you look for.