DALLAS - One year and six days removed from his most recent NHL game, Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro was disappointed that his performance didn't yield better results Friday night - but he was relieved that his lengthy absence after knee surgery finally is over.
It wasn't a victory, but ultimately, it was a net gain. In his anxiously anticipated season debut, DiPietro gave up four goals in 28 shots in the Islanders' 4-3 loss to Dallas - but at least he's back.
"I felt good. It was good to be back in there,'' said DiPietro, whose team led 2-1 and 3-2. "I'm disappointed we lost, but I'm looking forward to my next chance to play."
With the score tied at 3, Brad Richards snuck a juicy rebound past DiPietro's left skate at 16:47 of the second period for what proved to be the game-winner.
"That fourth goal was a sloppy rebound on my part. Those are the little sloppy things that bite you in the end," DiPietro said. "Hopefully, I'll sharpen up and won't leave any more pizzas in the slot."
Despite battling nerves, DiPietro looked pretty sharp in the first period, turning away nine of 10 shots and playing the puck with confidence. He even assisted on the Islanders' first goal.
DiPietro made three saves to begin the game before surrendering a goal on Toby Petersen's deflection at 4:44 in the first. "I'm not going to lie, I was nervous,'' he said. "But I had the chance to handle the puck a couple of times and make some saves to ease my way back in there.''
"I don't know if anyone can know what he is feeling emotionally right now," teammate Richard Park said before the game. "But this is a monumental moment for him. Not that it's the icing on the cake, but he probably has a sense of gratification for all he has endured."
DiPietro had a tough second period, though, as Dallas scored three goals to take a 4-3 lead.
After goals by Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo gave the Isles a 2-1 lead after one period, Loui Eriksson beat DiPietro high on the short side at 4:18 in the second, converting a terrific pass from Richards to tie the score at 2.
Frans Nielsen turned a blunder by Stars goalie Marty Turco into a backhanded goal into an open net at 7:47, but 24 seconds later, Dallas tied it again. The Stars intercepted the puck in their offensive zone on Brendan Witt's poorly executed reverse attempt along the end boards and Brenden Morrow's wrister beat DiPietro at 8:11.
Dallas mustered only three shots in the third and DiPietro stopped them all. But the Isles couldn't squeeze another gaffe from Turco to net the equalizer.
Islanders coach Scott Gordon said before the game, "I think we have to be realistic and know [that] as hard as he's worked and as good a physical condition as he's in right now, it's not going to be the same guy. It's going to take a little bit of time."
Hours before his start, DiPietro reflected on his difficult journey. "It's been tough. Physically it's a battle, but mentally it's even worse," he said. "It makes you realize how lucky you are and how special this opportunity is. At the end of the day, it's made me a better player and a better person, and hopefully, that translates on the ice."
DiPietro was hard-pressed to be satisfied with anything but a win but said he's looking forward to building on the game and showing improvement. "Hopefully,'' he said, "I'll only get better and I'll only get sharper."