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Islanders Coach Sits On Bubble

Sun., Jan. 11, 1998

If New York Islanders coach Rick Bowness gets fired, it will be his offense - or lack thereof - that did him in.

The Islanders lost for the 10th straight time Saturday, this time a 2-1 overtime setback to the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on Bates Battaglia’s first NHL goal.

Before the game, Islanders general manager Mike Milbury warned Bowness that his job is in jeopardy if the team does not reverse its slide.

“I told Rick that this can’t go on much longer,” Milbury said. “I told him, ‘You’re on alert.”’ Battaglia, down low in the right circle, took a shot toward Islanders goalie Wade Flaherty. The puck bounced off the pants of defenseman Scott Lachance past Flaherty at 1:59 of overtime.

“It’s a great feeling,” Battaglia said. “It was kind of like the icebreaker. Once you score your first point, you feel like you belong here.”

The loss was typical for the Islanders, who have scored three goals only once in their 10 defeats.

“You can’t win when you score one goal a game,” Lachance said. “We haven’t been able to get over that hump.”

Messier nets 1,000th assist

Vancouver’s Mark Messier became the sixth NHL player to record 1,000 career assists when he helped set up Alex Mogilny in the second period of a 2-2 tie between the Canucks and Florida Panthers.

Mogilny was playing his first game after missing 10 games with a groin injury.

Messier joined former teammates Wayne Gretzky (1,873) and defenseman Paul Coffey (1,080), as well as Gordie Howe (1,049), Marcel Dionne (1,040), and Ray Bourque (1,019) in the 1,000-assist club.

In Pittsburgh, Stu Barnes scored three consecutive goals in the second period for his first hat trick in more than six years as the Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1. Jaromir Jagr assisted on all three of Barnes’ goals.

In Toronto, Alexei Zhamnov’s goal with 4:45 remaining gave the Chicago Blackhawks a 4-3 victory over the Maple Leafs.

Toronto had a chance to tie the game with 54 seconds remaining. Mats Sundin was awarded a penalty shot when the Chicago net was intentionally pushed off its moorings by Blackhawks forward Tony Amonte. But Sundin’s weak backhand shot was stopped by Chicago goalie Andre Trefilov.

Saturday’s game between the New York Rangers and the Canadiens in Montreal was called off because of the severe ice storm that hit Quebec. The game was rescheduled for March 12.

Gold pales beside Cup

Time is running out on Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque’s bid for his first Stanley Cup. He would seem to have more of a chance to grab a gold medal - with the Canadian Olympic team.

Still, he says, he wouldn’t consider it as good as winning a Cup.

“It would come a close second,” Bourque says.

xxxx Ringing out the old Phil Esposito of the Tampa Bay Lightning is one general manager happy to ring in a new year. He wasn’t thrilled with 1997, and for good reason. During the calendar year, the Lightning went 28-44-12. They missed the playoffs last spring and ended 1997 with the NHL’s worst record of the new season (9-23-7). Also, last spring it was discovered that center John Cullen had cancer. “It’s just been a rotten 1997,” Esposito says. “No doubt about it. It started when we found out about John Cullen. Then we had the Chris Gratton situation in the summer. The 16-game (winless) streak (this season). I hope ‘98 is better.” Cullen is currently being treated for lymphoma. Gratton signed with the Flyers as a free agent after the Lightning refused to match Philadelphia’s offer sheet. - Associated Press

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