BUFFALO - This is a hockey series badly in need of a traffic cop.
With the two of the best goalies in the National Hockey League going head-to-head last night, the only way to win is a pile-up in front and that's why defencemen have six of the eight goals so far.
But it's the underdog New York Islanders and Rick DiPietro who withstood the barrage and received the best blueline contributions last night, a 3-2 win that evened their series with the top seeded Buffalo Sabres 1-1.
Marc-Andre Bergeron, the Isles' lesser known pick-up from the Edmonton Oilers, put the Isles ahead to stay at 8:37 of the third, getting the game's only power play strike on Ryan Miller.
Earlier in the period, on a tying goal that looked like Custer's Last Stand, the Sabres had five whacks at the puck from about 15 feet out, with five Islanders collapsed in front of DiPietro. Dmitri Kalinin finally banked it home at 2:12.
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, losing four out of five decisions. He excelled in the spotlight, gutting five Buffalo power plays where Wade Dubielewicz was beatebn twice in Game 1.
HSBCArena, usually one of the loudest venues in the National Hockey League, was strangely muted at the start. The public address twice had to exhort fans to make a din for the national networks during commercial breaks. But there was little to cheer about in the first few shifts.
Dubielewicz was good, but only the $67.5 million dollar man DiPietro's charisma can truly get the Islanders into game mode. That's why they flew him in on owner Charles Wang's private jet Thursday night right after his last neuro test came back clear.
The Isles roared out andburied the Sabres in hits and won the board battles in the early going.
"There's no time like the present," Ryan Smyth said of turning momentum in this series before it goes back to Uniondale tomorrow night. "Rick has played unbelievable for us when times are tough."
Trent Hunter pinballed a shot past Miller at 3:07 to stun the building.
Mike Sillinger's assist on the play gave the nomadic forward playoff points with six different NHLteams.
That was followed up by 22-year-old defenceman Bruno Gervais's first playoff goal from another screen. Miroslav Satan drew the assist, further enraging local fans who have turned on the ex-Sabre.
DiPietro had the Sabres on high alert for crisp passes from deep in the Isles' zone, a play he has continued to perfect even after the NHL handcuffed such puck-handling goalies with the introduction of the trapezoid a few years ago.
Most frustrated was slipperyt skating Sabre Maxim Afinogenov, who almost corkscrewed himself into the ice trying to shake Isles' checkers and get into positionj. But he was in the box for the fateful Bergeron goal.
The Sabres finally solved him with 1:02 to play in the first, a Toni Lydman point shot through the crowd. But he was dazzling on the deflections that the Sabres intended to finish off their dizzying passing.
Ex-Leaf Adam Mair denied the Sabres took their foot off of the gas pedal.
"I don't think so, but for whatever reason, we just didn't have our legs going," he said after 40 minutes. "They had some seeing-eye goals."