Pat LaFontaine, playing his first game with the New York Rangers after missing most of last season with a concussion, scored a power play goal at 11:15 of the third period Friday to lift his new team into a 2-2 tie with the New York Islanders in the season-opener for both teams.
“There was a point where I didn’t know if I’d ever play this game again,” LaFontaine said.
Traded by Buffalo on Monday, the former Sabres and Islanders captain redirected a point shot from Alexander Karpovtsev past Islanders goaltender Tommy Salo.
“It was a tremendous feeling,” said LaFontaine. “The fans were tremendous.”
Before the game, the Rangers introduced Brian Leetch as the 23rd captain in team history, taking over from Mark Messier, now the Canucks captain.
Hurricanes lose opener
A new city, a new name and more fans couldn’t prevent a familiar result for the old Hartford Whalers.
Tyler Wright scored a pair of goals in a 4-3 victory by the Pittsburgh Penguins that spoiled the Carolina Hurricanes’ first home game.
The contest drew a crowd of 18,661 to the 20,800-seat Greensboro Coliseum, the Hurricanes’ home base for two years until their new arena in Raleigh is ready.
Peter Karmanos decided to move his franchise after seven consecutive losing seasons and poor attendance at the Hartford Civic Center, where the Whalers averaged 13,657 last year.
Karmanos threw out a ceremonial first puck, drawing polite applause that was drowned out by a chorus of boos from nearly 100 Whalers fans who made the 12-hour drive from Hartford, Conn., to cheer their former team.
Karmanos smiled and waved at the rowdy band of fans clad in the still-familiar green and blue jerseys of the Whalers.
Once the game began, however, the Hurricanes looked very much like their predecessors.
NHL rising in Japan
The line wasn’t as long as the ones back home, but the Stanley Cup drew crowds to the stadium in Tokyo where the NHL held its first regular-season game outside North America, a 3-2 win for Vancouver over Anaheim.
Hockey fans are still a small minority in Japan, but with the first of two season-opening games, which featured goals by Mark Messier and Pavel Bure, the NHL hopes to begin building global interest.
The NHL sees Japan as a good place to start, ahead of the Winter Olympics in Nagano - the first games to feature NHL players.
A capacity crowd of 10,500 turned out for the game and punctuated every hard shot and heavy collision with loud “oohs.
Despite the crowd’s enthusiasm, there were reminders that the fans were missing Ducks’ superstar Paul Kariya, a Canadian of Japanese ancestry who remains unsigned. Several “Kariya” shirts were among a sprinkling of NHL team jerseys in the crowd.
The ice was laid down atop Tokyo’s 1964 Olympic swimming pool.
In other action
Brett Hull and Al MacInnis each scored twice as St. Louis defeated Phoenix 7-2.
Hull, who has been the subject of trade rumors since the beginning of training camp, scored his first goal of the season 2:17 into the game.
Peter Bondra celebrated his return to the ice Friday night by scoring twice in 55 seconds, sparking a four-goal third period as Washington beat Buffalo 6-2.
Eric Lindros scored his first two goals of the season and added an assist as Philadelphia defeated Ottawa 5-3.
Former Spokane Chief Pat Falloon scored his second goal of the season for the Flyers.
Washington Capitals goaltender Bill Ranford will miss at least a week with a groin injury suffered in Wednesday’s season-opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Colorado Avalanche All-Star defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh will miss at least two games after separating his right shoulder in Wednesday’s season-opener against the Dallas Stars.