One of Rick DiPietro's least favorite things to do is pack.
He will be doing that soon, however, and this time he doesn't mind. The Islanders confirmed late Monday afternoon that the rehabbing goaltender will accompany the team when it leaves Tuesday for a three-game road trip.
After playing two full games in less than 48 hours this past weekend and participating in a vigorous 90-minute practice with the team Monday, DiPietro said he is feeling healthy and is eager to return.
"It's exciting," he said. "It feels good to feel like myself again. It's been a long time since I've been healthy. At this point, it's just about continuing to get sharp and game-ready."
DiPietro, who has been rehabbing a surgically repaired knee since August, said he was happy with how the leg responded after rehab games Friday and Sunday. He also was encouraged that he felt healthy enough to participate Monday after the quick turnaround.
"Obviously, if he had any doubts, he wouldn't have been here," Gordon said.
DiPietro, who was 1-2-0 with an .883 save percentage in four appearances for Bridgeport, said it's difficult to assess how close he is to playing at a level up to his standards. Some rust is expected, given that DiPietro has not played in more than a year and has appeared in only five games since March 2008.
"It's tough to tell until you get into an NHL game,'' DiPietro said. "It's one of those things where you continue to practice, face as many shots as you can and keep working on tracking the puck. We'll see after I get my first game under my belt."
He added, "It's an exciting time. It sucked having missed the first half of the season, but this is the most exciting part. It's going to be exciting going down the stretch trying to make the playoff push."
Considering how long it has taken for him to get to this point, DiPietro, 28, said he's still hesitant to feel relief.
"I'm done exhaling. I still hold my breath," he said. "I'll never forget the day I had to get surgery. It was tough. To think at this age you could have your career taken away from you, it's a scary thought. I've played a couple games in Bridgeport, and that's been a thrill. I can only imagine when I get back on the ice with these guys."
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