It's an emotional home victory in a shootout for Islanders' DiPietro
Rick DiPietro had long envisioned what his first win of the season would feel like.
But when the time came, when the chants of "D-P" surged through the crowd of 13,635 at Nassau Coliseum, it managed to surpass even his lofty expectations.
"I told myself I wasn't going to cry on the ice," the jubilant DiPietro said. "But this is an emotional time for me."
The chants rose after the Islanders beat the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, after the eighth round of a shootout. The Islanders' Trent Hunter scored and the Sabres' Patrick Kaleta missed wide in that eighth round.
DiPietro certainly did not lack for a grand stage in his second start of the season and first home start since Dec. 26, 2008. In a thrilling shootout that had the crowd on its feet, DiPietro outlasted Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.
DiPietro made several clutch saves and Rob Schremp, Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Hunter scored. Twice DiPietro had a chance to win in the shootout and twice the Sabres tied it, but in the end, he emerged triumphant.
The significance of the achievement was not lost on DiPietro's teammates, who rallied around him and played a terrific game in front of him.
"He was awesome tonight," defenseman Andy Sutton said. "He looked like the Rick of old."
DiPietro made 31 saves on 33 shots in regulation and two key stops in the shootout.
"I think he is a guy who likes the spotlight," coach Scott Gordon said. "I don't think that's something he fears."
DiPietro got a sniff of action early, making a nice save on Tim Connolly's sharp-angle shot 26 seconds into the game and turning away three additional shots in the first 53 seconds.
DiPietro stopped all 11 Sabres attempts in the first period, and Tavares gave him a cushion. Though the Sabres led the Islanders 8-2 in shots, the Islanders took the lead with Tavares' slump-busting goal at 5:38. Tavares terminated his nine-game goal-less streak by lifting a rebound and banking the puck off the crossbar for his 17th.
DiPietro didn't face much pressure in the second period and the Islanders relentlessly pegged Miller with a total of 21 shots. Sean Bergenheim gave the Islanders a two-goal edge with a backdoor deflection at 15:33, but the Sabres' Mike Grier scored 21 seconds later, redirecting Connolly's shot.
Buffalo's stingy penalty-killing unit thwarted all four of the Islanders' power-play attempts, improving their record to an impressive 39-for-41 in the past 10 games.
A borderline call cost the Islanders as Richard Park's goal at 6:32 of the third was waved off. Sutton got tangled up with Sabres defenseman Chris Butler near the crease and made incidental contact with Miller.
Drew Stafford then unearthed a rebound down low and slid the puck past DiPietro for the tying goal at 9:35 of the third.
But it all ended well for DiPietro. Afterward, he struggled to articulate his emotions. Said the goalie, "I can't even tell you how this feels."