UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Ted Nolan can start Rick DiPietro, Wade Dubielewicz, or even coax Hall of Famer Billy Smith out of retirement.
If the New York Islanders keep playing poor defence in front of their goalie, it won’t make much difference who the coach picks to play.
Scott Gomez deflected a shot past Dubielewicz, the usual backup to DiPietro, early in the third period, and the New York Rangers earned a split of the home-and-home series with a 4-1 victory Thursday night.
The Rangers, who lost to the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday night, came out of the two-game series with three points out of four. They are 8-0-3 in their last 11.
“Not that we want to put ourselves in the situation where we’re going into the third periods with one-goal leads, but it’s certainly good practice,” said Sean Avery, who scored twice. “It’s good for us to have that in the back of our heads that we can go into the third and hold the lead.”
Even though the Islanders lost, the decision by Nolan to start Dubielewicz over DiPietro couldn’t be faulted since the goalie had little chance to prevent any of the goals.
DiPietro, in the second season of a 13-year contract, was away from the team for three days following the death of his grandmother. He returned to practice Wednesday, but Nolan already seemed to be leaning toward playing Dubielewicz because of the his solid performances against Florida and the Rangers in DiPietro’s absence.
“He’s a hot hand,” Nolan said. “You can second-guess yourself, ifs, ands, buts and everything else. I mean, Dubielewicz has been playing well. Ricky’s had three or four days off. It’s kind of unfair to put him into a situation like this. Now, he’s got two practices, and he’ll run with it from here on in.”
Brendan Shanahan scored a breakaway goal just 1:29 in during a delayed Islanders penalty, and Avery built the Rangers’ lead to 2-0 later in the first period when he was left open in the slot.
“Two point-blank goals basically. You’ve got one guy that’s scored 700 goals in this league just sitting by himself on the blue-line, and then another guy wide open on the back door,” Islanders captain Bill Guerin said of Shanahan, who has scored 649 goals. “In games this big, that can’t happen. It’s just mental breakdowns. It killed us.”
Gomez made it 3-1 when a shot by Marc Staal ricocheted in off him and Islanders defenseman Rob Davison at 1:12 of the third.
The Rangers jumped over Boston into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with the Bruins holding a game in hand.
The Islanders are on the outside of the playoff race, stuck in 11th place – five points and three spots below the post-season cutoff with only 13 games left.
“We’re going to have to win a lot of those, and some people are going to have to lose,” Guerin said. “Nobody is quitting. We’re going to keep going and see where everything falls after 82 games.”
DiPietro took the news that he wouldn’t play in stride and watched the game from the far right corner of the bench, wearing a white Islanders baseball cap.
Dubielewicz finished with 24 saves, and was bailed out a few times when the Rangers found goal posts when shooting at an open net. His best stop came on Chris Drury, when he dived across the crease to make a stick save.
Avery sealed it with an empty-net goal with 57.8 seconds remaining.
“It would’ve been nice to be the hero, but what can you do?” Dubielewicz said. “You can’t sit around and pout and worry about it now. I’ve got to regroup and start working hard and get ready if I’m going to get another chance to play.”
Henrik Lundqvist bounced back from Tuesday’s loss with a 26-save effort. His only blemish was Sean Bergenheim’s second-period goal that caromed in off Rangers defenseman Marek Malik.
“I felt good the whole game and I felt like the guys were on their toes,” Lundqvist said. “Every time there was a scramble in front, they cleared their guys and got the pucks.”
The Islanders’ anemic power play fizzled again, going 0-for-5 including a 5-on-3 advantage for 51 seconds in the middle period. They clicked only twice in the past 41 opportunities over 10 games.
“It’s awful. It’s awful,” Guerin said. “We’ve tried to figure it out. We’ve tried to do different things every game. I don’t know what it is.”
The Islanders fell to 4-2 against the Rangers, and the teams will conclude the eight-game season series with another home-and-home set in April.
Notes: Dubielewicz, who has 13 NHL victories, had been 2-0 in his career against the Rangers. … The Islanders are 96-96-19-3 versus the Rangers. … Islanders D Brendan Witt tweaked his injured right knee in the third period, but said he expected to be OK.