The New York Islanders will likely have goaltender Rick DiPietro available for Game 2 against the Buffalo Sabres. Beating the team with the NHL’s best record, however, will require much more than a change in net.
DiPietro will probably see action for the first time in three weeks Saturday night as the Islanders look to even their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at one game apiece.
DiPietro practiced with the Islanders on Friday for the first time in three weeks since suffering his second concussion. Prior to Saturday’s game, Islanders coach Ted Nolan all but confirmed that DiPietro would be in goal for Game 2.
“Once he says he’s in, I say he’s in, he’s in,” Nolan said after Saturday morning’s pregame skate. “If he says he wants to play, he’s going to play.”
DiPietro, who missed the final seven games of the regular season and the first game of the playoffs, said he’s ready to play.
“I feel good, I did everything I normally would before a game,” DiPietro said. “I’m ready to play, but it’s Teddy’s call.”
DiPietro is the Islanders’ most important player after going 32-19-9 - tying a single-season franchise record for wins - with a 2.58 goals-against average and five shutouts this season. He hasn’t played since a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on March 25.
“It’s tough to put into words how excited I am to be back and be a part of this. … If you’re a competitor, you want to play and I realize how important these games are,” DiPietro said.
There’s little doubt that the Islanders are a better team with DiPietro in net, but poor goaltending was not the reason they lost the series opener 4-1 on Thursday.
Wade Dubielewicz stopped 31 shots in his playoff debut, including 20 over the first two periods when New York was outshot 22-10.
If not for Dubielewicz, the Islanders wouldn’t even be in the playoffs. He led them to wins in their final four games, including a shootout victory at New Jersey on the final day of the regular season that clinched the eighth seed.
The Islanders were successful in limiting Buffalo’s high-powered attack Thursday, trailing by one goal in the third period. The problem for New York is how to generate offense while keeping the Sabres’ speedy forwards in check.
“I don’t think we were aggressive enough,” forward Jason Blake said after practice Friday. “You can’t sit back and watch the Buffalo Sabres, the best team in the league … skate around with the puck all day. We’ve got to play the way we played when we won hockey games.”
Buffalo, which led the NHL with 113 points in the regular season, is more than a collection of speedy forwards.
All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell scored two goals in Game 1, the first off a pass from fourth-liner Tim Connolly. Ryan Miller, who set a franchise record with 40 wins this season, made 20 saves and the Sabres scored twice on the power play.
“We’re deep when we roll the lines like we did tonight,” said Campbell, who also added an assist. “It’s a huge positive for our hockey club.”
Campbell said the Sabres aren’t concerned with DiPietro’s status for Game 2.
“I don’t think a goaltender can change too much,” Campbell said. “If he’s in, then that’s the goalie we face and we go after it.”
Sabres center Daniel Briere, the team leader with 95 points in the regular season, missed practice Friday with a minor leg injury but is expected to be in the lineup Saturday.
This series shifts to Long Island for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday.