UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) _ Rick Bowness was fired as coach of the New York Islanders today and replaced by general manager Mike Milbury in a move aimed at getting the team into the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

Milbury will be coaching the Islanders for the second time. He was replaced behind the bench by Bowness a year ago.

``It wasn't at all fun,'' Milbury said after running his first practice today. ``It was very unpleasant. Rick is a decent human being and a friend and a good coach, but he took it like a pro.''

But a different story was told by the players who learned of the firing from Bowness himself before practice.

``It was a huge shock,'' defenseman Scott Lachance said. ``He was all choked up. I don't recall what he said after he was let go, because I was in shock myself. Basically, everybody sat for about five minutes with our mouths open.''

The firing came after the Islanders played Buffalo and star goaltender Dominek Hasek to a 2-2 tie Tuesday night.

The tie moved the Islanders (22-32-9) within seven points of idle Ottawa for the eighth and final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference with 19 games left. The Islanders are in fifth place in the Atlantic Division.

Milbury goes behind the bench again on Thursday night at home against the Washington Capitals.

The Islanders made a solid start this season, going 15-15-5. But they went through a 10-game losing streak and never recovered, despite trades that brought Trevor Linden, Joe Sacco, Mark Janssens and J.J. Daigneault.

Bowness, an assistant coach under Milbury in Boston, was Ottawa's first coach and stayed there three years. He replaced Milbury as coach of the Islanders on Jan. 24, 1997. His overall record with the Islanders is 37-50-12.

Milbury took over as head coach on July 5, 1995, and assumed the general manager's job on Dec. 12 that year. He had a 35-83-19 record as Islanders coach, with an overall record of 125-122-40. He coached the Bruins from 1989-91 and got them to the Stanley Cup finals in 1990 and the semifinals in 1991.

Milbury will retain assistant coach Wayne Fleming but has given scouting duties to Bowness' other assistant, Brad McCrimmon. Player personnel director Gordie Clark will become Milbury's other assistant coach.