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DiPietro returns to Islanders practice; might sit again against Rangers

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Rick DiPietro rejoined the New York Islanders for practice on Wednesday with no assurance he would be back in goal Thursday night for the second half of a home-and-home series with the rival New York Rangers.

DiPietro had been away from the team since the conclusion of Saturday's loss to Philadelphia due to the death of his grandmother earlier in the week. He went home to New England for the wake Sunday and the funeral Monday.

The all-star goalie, in the second season of a 15-year contract with the Islanders, figured to come back and play Tuesday night in the road portion of the two-game series against the Rangers, but was convinced by general manager Garth Snow - a former netminder - to take another day off.

Wade Dubielewicz made 27 saves and then stopped five of six Rangers shots in the shootout to lift the Islanders to a 4-3 victory. DiPietro returned to the New York area during the afternoon, but didn't attend the game in Manhattan.

"Regardless of what's going on, I like to play as much as possible," DiPietro said. "(Snow) kind of rationalized and thought it wasn't a good idea, but obviously I wanted to compete especially in a game of that magnitude.

"We're getting down to the nitty gritty and it isn't a time I want to be taking a rest."

The Islanders began Wednesday 10th in the Eastern Conference, three points and two places below the playoff cutoff with 14 games remaining.

"The best thing I could do is have a good practice. I felt like I did that," DiPietro said. "I was able to do stuff away from the rink when I was gone. I tried to stay sharp, and I felt great out there today."

After Dubielewicz played well in going 1-1 while filling in for DiPietro, Islanders coach Ted Nolan was noncommittal about who would start Thursday night when the Rangers visit Long Island.

Dubielewicz made 29 saves in a 1-0 loss to Florida on Sunday and followed that with the win over the Rangers.

"We can't forget the fact that Dubielewicz has been playing great," Nolan said. "We're in a good situation. Whether Ricky goes in or Dubielewicz goes in, we feel quite confident."

DiPietro was on the ice early Wednesday, well before practice, taking shots from goaltending coach Mike Dunham and injured teammates Bruno Gervais and Jon Sim.

"I'm not leaning either way right now," Nolan said of Thursday's starter. "We keep looking at Ricky all the time, but Dubielewicz did a great job for us the last couple of games."

DiPietro indicated he didn't think he would play Thursday, saying he wanted to get back to action but that the decision rested with Nolan. Dubielewicz's feeling was that he would return to his backup role.

"To be quite fair, Ricky has been off the ice for four or five days," Nolan said. "He looked good today, we'll see how he feels again (Thursday) morning and we'll make the call then."

Dubielewicz noticeably raised his eyebrows when told that DiPietro thought he would be the one sitting.

"He hasn't said a word," Dubielewicz said of Nolan. "Obviously I want to play, but I know Ricky is our guy. Ricky is the guy we have to rely on, so I'm probably going to guess that he's going to get the shot."

Gervais skated for the first time since sustaining a concussion and bruising a thigh against Florida on Sunday. There is no timetable for his return to the lineup.

Sim, who has been out since injuring a knee in game No. 2 back in October, is a long shot to play again this season, Nolan said.


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