Now that the New York Islanders have surprisingly gained home-ice advantage in their opening-round playoff series, they’ll try and make it mean something.
The eighth-seeded Islanders seek their first home postseason victory in nearly five years Monday night when they meet the top-seeded Buffalo Sabres in Game 3 of their series.
New York starting goaltender Rick DiPietro made 32 saves in Saturday’s Game 2 - his first action in three weeks after suffering two concussions - to help lift the Isles to a 3-2 win at Buffalo. The victory knotted the best-of-seven series at 1-1, shifting home-ice advantage to Long Island.
The Islanders failed to take advantage of similar situations in their previous two playoff appearances. They earned one road win in the first two games against Ottawa in 2003 and Tampa Bay in 2004, but did not win another contest after that in either series.
The Isles have lost four straight postseason home games since a 5-3 victory over Toronto on April 28, 2002, including a pair of 3-0 defeats to the Lightning in 2004. However, they believe they’re better prepared this time.
“There are not many guys back from those teams,” DiPietro told the team’s official Web site. “Nothing against those teams at all, but this group is different. We have many more veteran players who’ve been there before. Those teams didn’t have Ryan Smyth, Sean Hill, Brendan Witt.
“We’re playing arguably the best team in the league, but we have the veterans to guide us.”
One of the Isles’ key veterans, though, played a surprisingly reduced role in Game 2. Captain Alexei Yashin sat on the bench for most of the final two periods and played just 10 shifts for 7:07 total ice time, both team lows.
At Sunday’s practice, New York coach Ted Nolan attempted to diffuse any controversy from the benching.
“We need a little bit more from everybody, from the 20th man to the first man,” said Nolan, who met with Yashin for about 20 minutes before speaking with reporters. “We have been doing that almost all season. (Saturday) night, it just happened to be Yash’s situation that came up. We needed to get something going, so we put (Richard) Zednik on that line.
“We have a group of guys that on any given moment, somebody jumps in, somebody jumps out. That’s what I most like about our team.”
Meanwhile, Buffalo hasn’t looked like the same team that led the league with 53 wins and 308 goals in the regular season. Chris Drury’s two goals in the Sabres’ 4-1 victory in Game 1 remain the only two scores by a Buffalo forward during this series.
The team’s other four goals have all come from defensemen.
“It’s still early, it’s two games,” said Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere, who tallied 32 goals and a team-high 95 points during the regular season but has just two assists in this series. “Sometimes you go through streaks like that in the season also. It’s not like we don’t want to score. DiPietro made some big saves.
“I hadn’t even realized that we’ve had only one forward score so far.”
Playing on the road may not have much effect on Buffalo, which went a Eastern Conference-best 25-12-4 away from home during the regular season. The Sabres split two visits to the Nassau Coliseum, a 3-0 victory on Oct. 26 and a 5-3 defeat Jan. 27.
This series continues with Game 4 at the Coliseum on Wednesday.