DiPietro makes a difference

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

BUFFALO -- This is a hockey series in need of a traffic cop.

With the two of the best goalies in the National Hockey League going head-to-head, the only answer is create a pileup in front, a good reason why defencemen have six of the 10 goals thus far.

But it's the underdog New York Islanders and stopper Rick DiPietro who saw enough light last night in a 3-2 win that evened their series with the top-seeded Sabres at 1-1. New York killed five power-plays, as DiPietro faced 34 shots to Ryan Miller's 32.

"My defence did a good job of letting me see the puck, clear rebounds and let me touch the puck behind the net to get a feel for the game," said DiPietro, back after three weeks recovering from a concussion. "I could've used a little WD40 on my joints, because there was no physical activity I could do when I was hurt.

"But I think we'll need to be even better at home (tomorrow at Nassau Coliseum), play hard and smart."

The Sabres, relatively easy winners in Game 1 with two power-play goals and wonky play from the nervous Isles, encountered a much different team last night, energized by the return of its No. 1 goalie and pressing the puck in both zones. They were down 2-0 to the Isles within 11 minutes.

"That's our last chance to learn that lesson," said Toni Lydman, who joined fellow blue-liner Dmitri Kalinin in beating DiPietro through crowds. "It will only get harder from here on in."

Marc-Andre Bergeron, the Isles' lesser-known pick-up from the Edmonton Oilers after Ryan Smyth, had the winner at 8:37 of the third, the game's only power-play goal.

Earlier in the period, the Sabres had five whacks at the puck from about 15 feet out, with five Isles collapsed in front of DiPietro, before Kalinin banked it home.

This was DiPietro's first playoff action since 2004 when he was tossed to the mercy of the eventual Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round. But he excelled in the spotlight last night where Wade Dubielewicz just didn't have the credentials to pull it off.

"We had a plan, but Game 1, in Buffalo, against the President's Trophy winners, any team would have trouble," DiPietro said. "We turned a corner in our last four (league) games (winning all to make eighth place) and now we're getting back to our game."

DiPietro also had the Sabres on high alert for his crisp passes from deep in the Isles zone, a play he continues to perfect even after the NHL handcuffed puck-handling goalies with the trapezoid.

Trent Hunter and Bruno Gervais had the other goals for the Islanders.

Among the most frustrated was slippery-skating Sabre Maxim Afinogenov, who almost corkscrewed himself into the ice trying to shake Isles checkers. But he was in the box for the Bergeron goal. When Buffalo reporters questioned the legitimacy of the hooking call, pointing out that Isles' Miro Satan had embellished the call, Sabres' coach Lindy Ruff wouldn't give his man a break.

"Don't put your stick there," Ruff said. "We took an undisciplined penalty that took our momentum away.

"One of their goals was a seeing-eye dog, but they did a good job coming back on us, picking our pockets."


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