So much for easing back in.
In his first game back since missing six weeks with facial fractures suffered in a fight with Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson, Rick DiPietro stopped both Panthers he faced in the shootout to boost the Islanders to a 4-3 win over Florida at BankAtlantic Center.
DiPietro, shelved since the now-infamous brawl February 2, blanked both Mike Santorelli and Sergei Samsonov in his return. On the other end, Frans Nielsen went five-hole to score on Scott Clemmensen and PA Parenteau won the game with a shot that beat the Panthers netminder high glove.
“I’ll take a win any way I can get it,” DiPietro said after the game. “I would rather have not let in that third goal, but a little extra work never hurt anybody.”
In the last minute of overtime, DiPietro also came up clutch against David Booth on a solo breakaway and a penalty shot resulting on defenseman Andrew MacDonald’s hook on the play.
“Ricky made a huge save for us there,” coach Jack Capuano said. “I really liked Rick’s compete level tonight.”
Up 3-2 in the third, the Islanders let an opponent whittle a lead to force the extra period for the third time in four games. Unlike the decisions dropped against New Jersey last Saturday and against Carolina Friday, the Islanders earned their first road win against the Panthers since November 2006.
“It was big. Everyone likes Rick in this locker room and we wanted to get one for him tonight,” said Parenteau, who tied the game at 2 in the third period.
After scoring his 17th of the season, fourth-line bruiser Micheal Haley went end-to-end, beating Panthers defenseman Joe Callahan for a 3-2 lead at 9:50.
Stephen Weiss knotted the teams at 3 later in the period with his one-timer from the left circle.
22-year-old Russian winger Evgeni Dadonov tallied twice in the second period for the Panthers. Coincidentally, it was his first game back since February 2 as well. He suffered a broken finger that night in the team's 3-2 loss to Montreal.
After the game, DiPietro feigned surprise that he fared well in the shootout with his recent practice history.
“If you had seen me in practice against breakaways the past couple of days, you’d know it was a soft spot for me,” he said.
As important as the victory was for DiPietro—who has battled countless injuries and ailments--it was a monumental night for another Islander as well.
Snapping a scoreless tie in the second period, 23-year-old rookie Michael Grabner tallied his 30th goal of the season.
With a pretty tape-to-tape pass from Frans Nielsen, Grabner scored on a shorthanded rush at 5:14 to become the second Islander to reach the milestone; Matt Moulson posted his second 30-goal season with a marker against the Rangers Tuesday.
“It’s nice not to have to worry about it too much," he said. "Hopefully now I can relax a little. It was a great pass from [Nielsen], he’s a play-maker. It’s easy to play with him.”
Even sweeter was the fact that Grabner accomplished the feat against the very team that waived him back in October.
“Yeah, sure. Nice to get it here, obviously. But at the same time, I’m just trying to help the team and it doesn’t matter who I score the goals against."
It’s the first time the Islanders have had two 30-goal scorers since the 2001-02 season when both Alexei Yashin (32) and Mark Parrish (30) hit that benchmark.
“We battled back and we got the win,” Grabner said. “That’s all that matters.