Nothing could shake off the rust better or be any sweeter than the 32-save effort that produced a 3-2 playoff victory for DiPietro and the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
“I could’ve used a little WD-40 on the joints here and there,” the Islanders’ top goalie said with a wink.
DiPietro was limber enough, bouncing back from a pair of concussions 12 days apart, and the Islanders showed renewed confidence with their star’s return in evening the Eastern Conference first-round series at 1.
Marc-Andre Bergeron secured the win, scoring the go-ahead goal 8:37 into the third period. But much of the kudos were directed at DiPietro.
“When Ricky’s back there making key saves at the right times … that gives us a boost of confidence and extra life,” forward Ryan Smyth said. “Your No. 1 player has to be your goaltender and he was that tonight.”
Two days after being cleared to practice, and playing his first game since March 25, DiPietro started off hot and stayed that way. He made his first save in the first minute by getting his shoulder up to stop Toni Lydman’s snap shot from the right circle. DiPietro’s best save came later in the first period when, lying on the ice, he reached back to foil Thomas Vanek’s backhander from in close.
“That was a confidence-builder, absolutely,” DiPietro said. “I was lucky to get my glove on it.”
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series will be Monday night on Long Island.
Lydman and Dmitri Kalinin scored for the Sabres, both goals coming on scrambles in front.
Otherwise, the Sabres started flat, falling behind 2-0 when Bruno Gervais scored 11 minutes in. And they didn’t have enough to rally, even though Kalinin tied it early in the third.
“We weren’t moving our feet,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “Obviously, we want to clean up the first 10 minutes of the game.”
The Sabres didn’t play with the same efficiency as in their 4-1 win on Thursday. And they didn’t resemble the team that led the NHL with 53 wins and 308 goals.
“Hey, they want to win, too,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said of the Islanders. “We have to forget about that first period and use it as motivation.”
Trent Hunter also scored for the Islanders, and Tom Poti added two assists.
Bergeron’s goal came as the Sabres appeared to have gained momentum, and came on the Islanders’ first shot of the period. With Smyth providing traffic in front, Bergeron slapped a shot in from the right point that beat Miller just inside the far post.
“I saw it go in and it was a great shot, a great play,” Smyth said. “We needed that boost.”
DiPietro stopped the final six shots to improve his playoff record to 2-4. He’s also gone 4-0-2 in his last seven appearances, dating to the regular season.
The Islanders showed they are a different team with DiPietro in net.
New York’s 16 shots in the first period nearly matched the 21 they managed in Game 1, and were far better than the one soft shot they produced in the first period Thursday.
“It was nice,” DiPietro said. “We did a lot of the things we talked about.”
It’s now the Sabres’ turn to bounce back.
“We didn’t give enough to win,” Buffalo forward Jason Pominville said. “We’ve been a good team on the road. And we have to go there and do the things we’ve been doing well all season.”
Notes: Sabres co-captain Chris Drury played in his 100th career postseason game, and 20th with Buffalo. Drury played his first 80 with Colorado, including in 2001 when he helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup. … Sabres LW Ales Kotalik was demoted to the fourth line in the second period, replaced by rookie Drew Stafford, who took his spot alongside Drury and Dainius Zubrus. … Islanders G Wade Dubielewicz, who stopped 31 shots in his career playoff debut Thursday, served as DiPietro’s backup, replacing Mike Dunham. … Islanders captain Alexei Yashin was benched for most of the final two periods, and finished with a team-low 7:07 of ice time.