In the end, there was no rust tonight. Turning aside 31 shots and five of eight shootout attempts, Rick DiPietro earned his first win in the NHL since Dec. 26, 2008. Normally I air-quote the "win" achieved by shootout/breakaway drill, but tonight DiPietro made no mistakes, and in the shootout he made the timely saves whenever his team, which shot first, was in danger of losing.
Throughout the night, the Islanders forwards did a great job coming back and supporting the defense both with backside pressure (huh huh) and by giving them quick outlet options. So DiPietro never had to make jaw-dropping, highlight reel saves like the kind the Islanders forced out of Ryan Miller. For the second game in a row, the Islanders asserted themselves against an elite team for most of 60 minutes. They have four standings points to show for it.
While the Isles didn't need the franchise goalie to save them, tonight definitely altered the DiPietro Comeback equation. I'm not totally sure how to process it, honestly. He didn't face the kind of side-to-side challenges that the Isles allowed in Dallas -- but he looked more fundamentally sound, and a few of his shootout saves were the kind of saves you expect to strain the range of a man with questionable hips and knees. For him, no sweat.
As usual, I'm not rushing to any conclusions here. But in terms of making another step in his progress, tonight could not have gone much better for Rick DiPietro.
Beyond DiPietro's first win and rather touching thank you to the fans -- it is remarkable how this challenging couple of years has grounded him -- there was so much to like about tonight:
- As mentioned, the Isles took the play to the Sabres most of the night -- and didn't let up when they were screwed on the phantom Andy Sutton goaltender interference call that wiped out Richard Park's goal from the top of the faceoff circle.
- They also didn't panic when, true to damn-the-luck script, the Sabres got the tying goal soon after that officiating snafu. That stretch was when DiPietro was tested most (the first two periods, they outshot Buffalo 31-17, but Buffalo came back hard in the third with a 12-4 shot differential).
- I was certain their multiple early unsuccessful powerplays would come back to bite them. It bit, but didn't kill.
- Look out, NHL: We have three first-rounders forming our top line, and they look just a wee bit dangerous. Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, Josh Bailey -- you just keep doin' whatcher doin', okay?
- Andy Sutton laying out Mike Grier at the Sutton Blueline Salvage, and Grier just dusting himself off and playing on. That's hockey, baby.
- The Islanders swarming Ryan Miller for two periods, forcing the Sabres into a five-man fire drill around Miller's crease and slot.
- Andrew MacDonald's astute, heads-up slap-pass to Sean Bergenheim for the deflection goal.
- It wasn't a huge stretch, but it could have changed the outcome: The Islanders quickly killed off that 15-second 4-on-3 PP the Sabres got in OT.
- Speaking of: Rather than just surviving, the Islanders looked dangerous in OT, too.
- Absolutely no rust from the layoff -- and no evident rust from DP, either.
- Trent Hunter and Matt Moulson, two unlikely shootout heroes delivering after Frans "Automatic" Nielsen hit the crossbar.
The Islanders, with 50 points in 48 games, are on a 8-2-1 run and now jump into a tie for 8th place in the conference. With back-to-backs Monday and Tuesday against New Jersey and Pittsburgh, I feel another DP start coming on.
But a game like tonight demands more than one video. Here's post-game reaction, first from a very happy Scott Gordon, then from an even happier DiPietro:
Rick DiPietro Post-game: "I can't even tell you how good this feels right now."
Money-quote: Q: How's your stamina through this, Rick? A: "That's probably a question you should ask my wife."
[UPDATE: Apologies, I know the video below doesn't work -- apparently they removed it from the Isles site. No idea whether it was the rather benign "stamina" comment or some other paranoid reason, but there you go. Sanitized for your protection.]
Give DP some ibuprofen and let's do this again soon, eh? There is an open practice at the Coliseum tomorrow (Sunday). Doors open at 10:45, practice begins at 11:00. This is suddenly rare this year for the Islanders, so you might want to check it out if you're geographically capable.
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Thanks to everybody in the game thread. Sorry about the site issues during OT. Turns out it was some major vendor "catastrophic event," which also took out Perez Hilton's site. Which begs the question: What the hell's a monkey gonna do on a Saturday night without Lighthouse Hockey OR Perez Hilton?