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DiPietro keeping Islanders in the hunt

Thursday, 01.17.2008 / 8:48 AM / Game-Day Skate

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Rick DiPietro made 37 saves to help his team knock off the New Jersey Devils for the fifth-straight time this season.
Some random thoughts before I take my python for a walk. …

I’d Vote For Ricky In A Hart-Beat -- “The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.”

What I’m about to say is probably going to cause my Inbox to explode, but the following topic is worth discussing: Is Rick DiPietro a Hart Trophy Candidate?

Done laughing yet? You should be, because you can make the case that the New York Islanders’ goaltender deserves serious consideration for this award if his second half resembles anything close to what he accomplished in the first.

Remember, this is a team that lost Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth, Viktor Kozlov, and, ahem, Alexei Yashin since the end of the 2006-07 campaign. Yet, look at what the Isles have been able to accomplish in the first half of the 2007-08 campaign.

Campoli

DiPietro stole another two points for the Islanders on Wednesday night, making 37 saves to help his team knock off the New Jersey Devils for the fifth-straight time this season in a 3-1 win at the Prudential Center. Fifteen of those stops came in the third period. Even without his top two defensemen in the lineup – Brendan Witt and Radek Martinek – DiPietro and the Isles (who lost Chris Campoli in the first period to a shoulder injury) found a way to get the job done.

Remember … it’s the Most “Valuable” Player. Sure, there are better players in the League (heck, there are even better goaltenders). But with Wednesday night’s win, the New York Islanders – who currently do not possess a 40-point player on their roster – are four points behind the Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead. For those of you scoring at home, that’s currently the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

"The reason we won tonight was because of the guy between our goal posts," said Isles coach Ted Nolan, who, if it’s possible, is doing an even better job in Year 2 on Long Island. "I thought he was really good tonight. He made some big saves, especially when the score was 2-1. Ricky is going to the All-Star Game for the first time, and you can see him coming of age. He's taken another step this season and he wants to prove that it's not a one-shot type of deal, but that he's an All-Star."

He’s more than that. He’s an MVP candidate.

He has to be.

No End In Sight, But …-- Hard to believe that the Buffalo Sabres have not won a game since Dec. 22, 2007 – a span of 10 games.

It’s even more difficult to believe that despite this incredibly-long slide, the Sabres are still very much alive in the race to the postseason.

Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden dropped the Sabres to 0-5-5 in their last 10, but Lindy Ruff’s squad is just five points behind the Blueshirts, who moved into eighth place in the conference with the victory.

In the 10 losses, Buffalo has only lost by more than two goals once. Prior to Wednesday night, the Sabres’ previous three losses came via the shootout.

Miller

"It's better than getting blown out," Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller said. "We're right there and it's something to build off of. It's frustrating any time you lose and when you put yourself in this kind of position in this League."

The Rangers didn’t lose 10 in a row, but they certainly know what Miller is talking about. Wednesday’s win was just their second in eight games (2-5-1).

"Obviously, we've had a bad string, but for our team and our season's sake, we've got to turn the corner and make sure we're bringing that effort and intensity every night," said Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky, who had a goal and an assist.

The way this race is going, New York doesn’t have a choice.

Not In Our House, Jacques – It’s only a matter of time before Florida Panthers coach Jacques Martin wins his 500th game.

On Wednesday, though, the Philadelphia Flyers made sure Martin would be stuck on 499 as they scored four times in the first period en route to a 5-3 win at the Wachovia Center.

Martin – who is 92-90-29 since joining the Panthers – was disappointed with his team’s lack of discipline in the opening period. The Flyers only scored one power-play goal in the first, but Florida was whistled for four minor penalties in the opening 20 minutes. Three of Philadelphia’s four goals in the first came in the final 7:46.

"We were playing well early and they were not getting much," Martin said. "We had momentum and lost it because we lost 10 minutes of the game in penalties."

Timonen

Kimmo Timonen had a goal and two assists for the Flyers, who pulled to within two points of New Jersey and Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division. He’s hoping his team learned a valuable lesson after allowing the Panthers to make a game out of what should have been a blowout.

"We started off pretty good, but then we sat back in the second period," Timonen said. "We have to learn to keep it going and make the game 6-1 instead of 4-3. You need to bring your 'A' game every night if you want to make the playoffs."

Goals Are Required – After being outscored 5-1 in their previous two losses, the Calgary Flames inched closer to reacquiring their offensive game with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild Wednesday night.

Jarome Iginla continues to torture the Wild. The Flames’ captain – who has 24 career goals and 41 points in 38 games against Minnesota – scored in the shootout to help Calgary end a three-game skid.

”You just get to a shootout and you know how it can go,” Iginla said. “You want a chance to just end it. Fortunately that went in. That was just inches. It's a good break, feels good.

”We haven't been playing well at all our last few games and we were trying to stop it and get some momentum going again,” he added. “These are almost four-point games. You want them. They are huge momentum.”

Backstrom

Minnesota was put in a rough spot when goalie Josh Harding (3-0 in his last three starts) injured his groin five minutes before opening faceoff. But Niklas Backstrom (29 saves) helped the Wild earn a point in the standings.

”It wasn't easy, but you can't think too much about that,” Backstrom said. “You need to step up and try to help the team, be there for the team when they need you. You can't hide behind that or find excuses. You have to go out there and play your best.”

Good thing Backstrom was solid … The way Harding’s been playing as of late, you wouldn’t have faulted Wild brass had they brought in Mr. Miyagi to work his magic on the fallen netminder.

That’s More Like It – After spending several weeks mired in mediocrity, the Chicago Blackhawks broke out on Wednesday night like a 15-year-old on a chocolate binge.

Rookie sensation Patrick Kane had his first two goals in nine games, and Dustin Byfuglien had a goal and two assists as the Blackhawks pummeled the St. Louis Blues, 6-1, at the United Center. The win was Chicago’s second straight after an eight-game slide (0-6-2).

"Everybody is playing extremely well," said Blackhawks goalie Patrick Lalime, who finished with 32 saves. "It's a good feeling. We were very close and now we're seeing the results. It's a huge win. Everybody gets credit for this one. We all have our role and we stuck to the plan."

Speaking of plans, the Blues may need a Plan B – and fast. Goalie Manny Legace, who has kept St. Louis in the playoff hunt, injured his shoulder during a collision with Chicago’s Patrick Sharp late in the first period. He was replaced by rookie Marek Schwarz, who allowed five goals on 13 shots.

Just a hunch, but maybe the Blues are hoping the Legace’s injury isn’t serious?

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.



Quote of the Day

I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year. I think we started seeing that at the end of the year, and he could be a replacement for Jarome as a possibility.

— Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien on forward Loui Eriksson's potential