DiPietro, coming off his fourth straight defeat, made 19 of his career-high 45 saves in the third period and the Islanders snapped a six-game winless streak with a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on Friday night.
One night earlier, DiPietro surrendered four goals on seven shots in the second period of a 5-4 loss at San Jose. But first-year coach Steve Stirling, who coached him in the minors, wasn’t about to let his 22-year-old goaltender spend an entire game sitting at the end of the bench thinking about it.
“It was nice to have him show the confidence to throw me back in there, especially with the games as important as they are coming down the stretch,” said DiPietro, the first overall pick in the 2000 draft. “We were able to clear out the front of the net tonight and I was able to see a lot of the shots.”
Until this recent slide, DiPietro had not lost consecutive starts since early December.
“It was real important to put him back there,” Stirling said. “It’s another test for a young kid who is making progress.
“He was going really well, but then he got hurt a little bit and he didn’t play in both Pittsburgh games when he was scheduled to play. I think that set him back a little, but he was sharp as a tack tonight and got back on track. He’s been with me a long time, and he usually comes back like this more often than not after a game like last night.”
Janne Niinimaa and Cliff Ronning each had a goal and an assist for the Islanders, who increased their lead to six points over idle Buffalo for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff seed with 10 games left. Dave Scatchard scored into an empty net in the final minute.
“We can’t worry about the playoff race. We can’t worry about everyone else. We just have to worry about our next game,” defenseman Jason Blake said. “We can only control what we do. The playoffs are in our hands. And if we keep doing the things that we’ve got to do, we can go as far as we want to. For us, it’s just consistency.”
Samuel Pahlsson scored for the Ducks, who have lost three straight for the first time since Dec. 21-27. Martin Gerber, starting for the first time since Feb. 4 after a season-high 15 consecutive starts by Jean-Sebastien Giguere, made 26 saves.
“It was a good effort,” Anaheim defenseman Keith Carney said. “We worked hard and played our system pretty well. We worked together as a team and had some quality chances, but it just wasn’t enough. You’ve got to give credit to their goaltender.”
The Islanders took the lead for good late in the second period after Ronning won a faceoff deep in the Anaheim zone. Niinimaa got the puck from Kenny Jonsson and blasted a one-timer along the ice that hopped off the blade of Gerber’s stick, over his left shoulder and across the goal line. Jonsson’s assist was his 200th in the NHL.
Gerber stopped 15 of 16 shots in the first period, including seven by Scatchard. The only puck that eluded Gerber went in off the left skate of Anaheim defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski, after Ronning played the carom of Niinimaa’s shot off the end boards and made a blind backhand pass toward the front of the net.
The goal was the ninth this season for Ronning, who signed with the Islanders on Jan. 9 and scored twice in Thursday’s 5-4 loss at San Jose.
The Islanders survived a two-man disadvantage for 49 seconds, but Anaheim got a power-play goal with 2 seconds remaining on the second penalty. Pahlsson got a pass from Petr Sykora at the right of the net and beat DiPietro to thestick side late in the second period to tie the score. ^Notes: Anaheim LW Mike Leclerc, who has played just 10 games after undergoing knee surgery June 26, decided Friday morning to shut it down for the rest of the season. He sat out the Ducks’ previous five games because of soreness in his left knee. Leclerc has a year left on his two-year contract, which he signed less than three weeks after his surgery. … The Islanders are 20-0-4 this season when leading after two periods, and are unbeaten in the last 45 games in which they took a lead into the third period, 38-0-7. The only team with a longer active streak is Dallas (60 games). … Islanders D Adrian Aucoin left the club to be with his wife Caroline for the birth of their third child…. C Shawn Bates missed his second straight game because a groin strain.