Arron Asham scored two goals and Brad Isbister added a goal and two assists to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs in the teams' first meeting since last season's hotly contested Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
After Darcy Tucker low-bridged Michael Peca during their playoff series, the Islanders' captain was forced to undergo offseason knee surgery and missed all but 27 seconds of New York's first 16 games this season. Many expected Peca to repay Tucker but other than a few uneventful fights, the Islanders let their play do the damage.
"We directed our energy in the right way," Peca said. "We really talked about it the last couple of days, to really focus on what's important. That's winning the hockey game. We know we wouldn't have a shortage of energy or emotion. We had to harness it. Despite what I said in the summer, we don't want to see another injury like that. We just want to play the game hard."
"Our coaches told us to stay out of the extracurricular stuff, stay out of trouble," Islanders center Jason Wiemer said. "I thought that they were watching out for (Tucker), watching his back. Maybe they didn't want him to get involved in anything."
New York coach Peter Laviolette admitted it was difficult to maintain composure and not attempt to gain retribution against Tucker.
"I don't think you can keep away completely," he said. "The guys read everything that is written and hear everything put on the airwaves. We did our best to put it on the back burner and put the game on the front burner."
Asham scored 45 seconds into the second period to snap a 1-1 tie before netting his fifth goal of the season at 6:54 of the third to post his second career multi-goal game and first since being acquired from Montreal in an offseason trade.
Isbister netted his eighth of the season between Asham's tallies, while Chris Osgood needed to make just 13 saves for the victory.
After Wiemer and Fitzgerald traded first-period goals, Isbister fed Asham in the slot while falling to the ice behind the Toronto net, and the 24-year-old right wing wristed a shot past goaltender Trevor Kidd for his second goal in as many games and a 2-1 Islanders lead.
Just over eight minutes later, defenseman Adrian Aucoin pinched along the right boards and fired a pass to the front of the net. After glancing off Mark Parrish, the puck went to Isbister on the left side and the rugged left wing deposited it into the net to give New York a two-goal cushion.
"It was a pretty big win for us," Isbister said. "The atmosphere was similiar to the playoffs. I think both of us tried to play disciplined. We tried to play smart but stay out of the box and focus on winning the game."
Asham made it 4-1 less than seven minutes into the third, grabbing the rebound of a right point shot by Aucoin and knocking it by Kidd.
"I enjoyed it tonight," Asham said. "It was a physical contest. I was fortunate enough to get the puck at the right time to score. The guys did a great job of moving the puck and getting it in a position for me to shoot."
With a three-goal lead, New York center Dave Scatchard decided to settle a score by engaging in a tussle with Shayne Corson after a faceoff. But while the raucous crowd of 16,234 chanted "We want Tucker", it was forced to settle for a 4-2 victory, as Sundin's wrister from the top of the left circle bounced into the net off the left post midway through the session.
Toronto coach Pat Quinn believed the hype leading up to the game had an effect on his team.
"We weren't much into the game," he said. "All of the stuff that went on throughout the week, I guess we were concerned with what was going to happen out there. As much as you like to prepare for it and think that you are mentally tough, we didn't deal with it very well. Only one team played. Let's face it, these guys hyped it up all week, I guess to sell tickets, I have no idea. Usually, I've been around in the 'stupid 70's' and looks like we are getting stupid again."
The Islanders, who extended their home unbeaten streak against Toronto to seven games, including three victories during the playoffs, took the lead at 10:17 of the first period. After picking up a loose puck at the left side of the net, Scatchard unleashed a shot that Kidd turned away. But the rebound came right to Wiemer, who fired it past the Toronto goalie for his fourth goal.
With 12 seconds remaining in the period, Fitzgerald gathered a loose puck along the left boards and ripped a turnaround slap shot from the top of the circle that snuck between Osgood's pads for his first goal in 34 games and first as a Maple Leaf.
At 2:28 of the second period, Steve Webb flattened Jonas Hoglund with a hard but clean check, causing the Maple Leafs right wing to miss the remainder of the game with a concussion. Toronto enforcer Tie Domi attempted to instigate a fight with Webb but instead battled rookie Eric Godard, who was recalled by the Islanders earlier in the day.
"(Webb) was late, I know that," Hoglund said. "That's the way he plays. He finishes all his checks, whether it's late or not. I took my shot and didn't have time to protect myself. I saw him coming at the last second, but it was too late. Once I got to the bench, I didn't feel 100 percent right away. But it came back to me pretty fast as soon as I got back to the dressing room."
"It was a good hit," Webb said. "I was in the right place at the right time."