UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Rick DiPietro’s homecoming was just about perfect: He earned a win, got through a long game unscathed, and didn’t shed any tears.
DiPietro followed Trent Hunter’s goal in the eighth round of a shootout with a save against Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta, and the New York Islanders escaped with a 3-2 victory over the Sabres on Saturday night in the goalie’s first home game in over a year.
“I was trying not to cry on the ice,” said the 28-year-old DiPietro, back from a series of knee injuries. “That’s the one thing I told myself. I wouldn’t cry. It’s an emotional time for me. It’s been a long time coming, been a rough road. Just to get the win was amazing.”
DiPietro made 31 saves through overtime and then turned aside five shooters in the tiebreaker. Limited to only three NHL games in over a year, DiPietro got the Islanders to a shootout after failing to protect a one-goal lead in the third period.
New York has won five of six, and DiPietro could see more action soon because the Islanders will play four games in six days next week.
“Always in the back of my mind I knew I’d be back to this point, sitting in front of you guys after a big win,” DiPietro said. “I am sure when I get a chance over the next couple of days to let it sink in I’ll be pretty excited.”
Ryan Miller also allowed goals to Rob Schremp and Matt Moulson in the shootout after a 36-save effort. Buffalo, in the second game of a seven-game trip, is 7-0-3 in its last 10.
“I’m not going to be banging my head off the wall too hard. I set those guys up pretty well,” Miller said. “From my perspective they were fortunate to get a puck by me.”
In a matchup of U.S. Olympic goalies past and present, DiPietro – the 2006 starter at the Turin Games – played well in his second start this season and first at home since Dec. 26, 2008. He made his debut Jan. 8, stopping 24 of 28 shots in a 4-3 loss at Dallas.
Mike Grier and Drew Stafford scored against him in regulation.
Miller, the likely No. 1 American goalie at the upcoming Vancouver Olympics, allowed goals to John Tavares and Sean Bergenheim as New York took a 2-0 lead.
“I don’t think we played as well as we could’ve in the first two periods,” Miller said.
The Islanders thought they had their second two-goal lead of the game when Richard Park fired in a shot 6:24 into the third. It was waved off because of interference on Miller by defenceman Andy Sutton.
“They just said that they thought I made contact with Miller. I definitely don’t agree,” Sutton said.
Miller thought the call might’ve been made because he said Sutton cut him off in the crease as he skated by.
“I was probably fortunate to get the call,” Miller admitted. “I never left the crease, so I had to readjust.”
Instead of being down 3-1, the Sabres soon forged a 2-2 tie. DiPietro stopped defenceman Chris Butler’s shot from the left point, but Stafford kicked the puck toward the net and nudged it in with his stick at 9:35.
The Islanders struck first, despite being outshot 8-1 early. Tavares lifted the rebound of Kyle Okposo’s shot over Miller at 5:38. It was the rookie Tavares’ 17th goal of the season, but first in 10 games.
New York held the Sabres to only three shots the rest of the period, and Buffalo had only six in the second. The Sabres managed to get the deficit quickly back to a goal after Bergenheim scored with 4:27 left in the second. Bergenheim has a goal and an assist in two games since returning Tuesday from a rib injury that forced him to miss 16.
The Sabres got that goal back 21 seconds later when Tim Connolly’s shot from the left side hit Grier and caromed past DiPietro. The assist stretched Connolly’s career-best point streak to 11 games, the longest current run in the NHL.
New York failed to capitalize on having the first four power plays. Buffalo had only two.
DiPietro seemed fairly sharp even through long stretches in which the Sabres registered few shots. DiPietro, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, was welcomed warmly during pregame introductions and heard other cheers after a video tribute welcoming him back was shown during a first-period stoppage.
“I had the jitters in the locker room just anticipating going out there having my name announced,” DiPietro said. “I was able to settle in there early and I enjoyed every minute.”
DiPietro stylishly snagged a rising shot by rookie defenceman Tyler Myers in the second period, drawing chants of “DP, DP” from the crowd.
The Islanders, outshot 12-4 in the third period after a 21-6 edge in the second, were robbed in the middle frame by Miller after Moulson set up Frans Nielsen in front.
NOTES: Tavares has scored only two goals in 17 games following back-to-back two-goal efforts on Dec. 8 and 9. … Connolly has five goals and 11 assists in his streak that began on Dec. 23 at Washington. That is also the last game the Sabres lost in regulation time. … DiPietro’s three-game streak of assists, spread over three calendar years, ended.