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THE BATTLE VS. BUFFALO

by Staff Writer / New York Islanders

THIS IS GOING TO HURT FOR A WHILE


Buffalo, New York

Our start to the game was very disappointing. I don't want to say embarrassing, but I guess you could use that word. We have to remember there were 14 teams at home tonight not in the playoffs watching this game. And they were probably thinking they deserved our spot more than we did. We came on at the end and that was good. We fought to the very end. But that start was bad. There were too many guys tonight who didn't leave everything they had onto the ice.

Overall, we fought as a team and battled a lot of adversity since I arrived here. You had Ricky out for a while, you had (Andy Hilbert) playing with a third-degree shoulder separation and (Arron Asham) with a broken hand. There were a lot of guys hurt and we really battled through everything. I'm proud of that. I got a taste last year of being so close to the Trophy we're all going for. This one tonight really hurts. It's going to hurt for a while.

Posted At: 10:30 PM
Posted By: RYAN SMYTH, ISLANDERS FORWARD

---


BUILDING A TEAM IDENTITY
Buffalo, New York

We set out to change the culture on Long Island and I think we made a lot of strides doing just that. When the season started it looked like 5, 6 thousand fans in the Coliseum. In the last few months the building was filled just about every night and one of the loudest buildings in the league. We still have a lot of work to do and changes to make. I don't think you can model yourself on another team. The Sabres did a great job molding a team around speed, but I don't think you should copy another team's identity. It's Garth's job and my job to work together to create a new identity for the New York Islanders. I'm confident we're going to do that.

Posted At: 10:20 pm
Posted By: TED NOLAN, ISLANDERS HEAD COACH

***

Friday, April 20, 2:40 pm: Business As Usual

Just got back from the morning skate. It was as uneventful a morning skate and post-workout media briefing as you could have. Nothing happened.

The Islanders had an optional skate. About 15 players took part, including tonight's extras. After the workout, Rick DiPietro and Jason Blake hosted the most populated media scrums. Their mantra was one game at a time, bringing the series back to the Coli for Game 6, etc.

Ted went in the large press conference room and sang the same song. There were the usual questions about some of the big guns not scoring and Nolan replied that "scorers gotta score, hitters gotta hit. We all have to be better against this team."

Just as PR called "Last question" a Buffalo reporter asked Ted for his take on Sabres captain Chris Drury. Nolan raved about the kid from Connecticut, saying, "There are hockey players, and there are HOCKEY PLAYERS." He went on some more about Drury and then said, "that kid is one competitive son of a..." and then he stopped short, laughed a nervous laugh and said goodbye to the press before leaving the room.

***

Friday, April 20, 2:10 pm: You Tuber responds

We received the following email from the Islanders fan who posted the Witt goal on You Tube. We are happy to set the record straight for Islanders fans and also thank RJ for his email:

I was the individual responsible for posting that video. Just so the story is straight, I posted the video on You Tube at 7:30 P.M on Thursday.

Sometime around 8:45 the clip was removed by You Tube only to be put back on their service a little after 11:30 pm.

As yet I have yet to receive any communication from You Tube as to why they removed the clip for over 3 hours.

I just thought that you would want all of the pertinent facts.

LET'S GO ISLANDERS!!!

Sincerely,

R.J.

***

Friday, April 20, 10:55 am: You Tubed

Woke up this morning in Buffalo to a flood of emails from fans with a story we refuse to believe.

Seems one enterprising fan took a clip of Brendan Witt's no-goal in Game 4 and posted it on You Tube. The talented fan posted the clip in slow motion so everyone could see what really happened on the play.

Fans are telling us the clip was on You Tube for a few hours and then it was mysteriously taken down last night. We know the NHL has a partnership at You Tube that was the talk of the sports business not so long ago. It was a brilliantly-conceived deal, bringing our game incredible exposure.

When we go on You Tube, we can get everything about hockey, including the Best of Boogaard. We absolutely refuse to believe the league would take down one Islander fan's attempt to show the truth.

Talk about a conspiracy!

***

Thursday, April 18, 6:35 pm: No action on Teppo, no phone call from the league

MOVIN' ON (GARTH'S SONG)

Forgive the stretch-of-a-Billy-Joel reference, but that's the posture the Islanders took throughout the day. As of 6:00 pm tonight, the team did not receive a phone call of further explanation from anyone in the NHL office. And according to general manager Garth Snow, "We're moving on."

We've heard some rumblings that Colin Campbell has spoken to a few reporters today about the controversy in Game 4, so Islanders Country figures to be enlightened by Friday's papers (or the World Wide Web thingy late tonight). Somehow we can't help but think this is only going to get messier.

 

THE BEST OF TED, SHORT AND SWEET

Ted Nolan's interview with reporters today was concise - all of one minutes, 29 seconds - but informative. Here's a snippet. "I was quite pleased with our effort last night," said Nolan. "I thought it was our best game, but we can play better. I slept well last night knowing that we did what we needed to win, but came up just short. I told the guys that tomorrow we need to bring our A game, especially on the power play and penalty kill."

 

BLAKE: I'LL BE READY

Late in the first period, the Islanders got a scare when Jason Blake was dangerously hit from behind by Buffalo defenseman Teppo Numminen, with Blake's head crashing into the boards. Blake eventually got up on his own power and skated to the bench. He returned in the middle of the second period.

"After I got hit, I tried wiggling my fingers and then I rolled onto my knees," said Blake. "At first, I thought I broke my back. It was a terrible hit, and I could have seriously been injured. I think the league has to take a little more culpability on stuff like that. What's it going to take? Someone to break their neck or get carried off on a stretcher?  I know Teppo is not that type of player. It's just the heat of the moment and those types of things happen. He got a two-minute minor and we scored on it, so I guess that's a good thing. Everything is a little sore today, but it's okay. It's the biggest game of the year tomorrow night, so I'll be ready to go."

Our sources tell us the NHL has decided to not give Numminen any supplementary discipline. Teppo's long NHL career and clean record makes that decision not a big surprise.

 

BLUELINES
News & Notes from Thursday's practice

* While fans were naturally talking about Game 4's controversy after exiting the Nassau Coliseum, there wasn't much talk of it in the Islanders' dressing room post-game. "There wasn't much said in the locker room after the game," said Rick DiPietro. "At first, guys in the room were upset, but we quickly got past feeling sorry for ourselves. We all knew what needed to be done to get ready for the next game. Everyone just prepared in their own way for Game 5 in Buffalo."

* The Most Underrated Interview Award would have to go to Richard Park, who is as thoughtful as they come. Here was his take on using their late regular-season stretch as something to take with them into Game 5. "We have to find some inner strength to get back in this series," said Park, "and when you're doing that, there's no better place to look than in your past. Having been through that, it gives you a little bit of experience. Winning those four in a row at the end of the season is not quite the same, but it should help."

* Since Game 2, the contests against the Sabres have been - more or less - one-goal games, indicating that this series has been closer than most predicted. While the series may be close, Sean Hill isn't looking at it that way. "We're right there with them, but they've been the better team, finding ways to pull the close ones out," said Hill. "It's all well and good to be close, but it's all about winning. The only good thing we can take from being close is that we're a bounce or a call away from winning. We'll use that to stay positive and ready for Friday."

* While some of the players spoke of using Game 4's controversy as motivation for Game 5, Ryan Smyth discussed making sure the team stayed level-headed. "We have to control our emotions in the next game," said Smyth. "It's important that we're not retaliating or taking penalties that put ourselves in jeopardy. We have to work for our breaks and earn them too. It's time to make our own wave."

* Defenseman Drew Fata joined the Islanders yesterday for depth purposes on the blueline from Bridgeport.

***

Thursday, April 19, 12:25 pm: The Morning After

The day after, the Islanders are saying little about Brendan Witt's no-goal in Game 4. Fully realizing it would get them nowhere - except for criticism of a lack of focus for Friday's tilt - the Islanders are simply looking ahead to Game 5.

As usual, Mike Sillinger was the voice of reason in the locker room last night and it's important we follow up on it today. The argument over last night is not about an Oliver Stone-inspired conspiracy of the NHL towards the New York Islanders. It is simply that the referees, the officials in Toronto - whomever! - blew an important call.

Today, the only focus is on Game 5 and bringing this series back to the Coliseum on Sunday.

 

HULLUVA PIECE OF JOURNALISM

The team's professional approach to last night doesn't necessarily mean we're willing to let go!

Remember the thunderous, appropriate outrage throughout Buffalo - conducted by the local media like virtuosos - in the wake of Brett Hull's in-the-crease OT goal that may have cost the Sabres a Cup? Well, here's the description by the Buffalo News of last night's controversial play:

"Nassau Coliseum erupted when it appeared the Islanders had scored after a long stalemate that lasted nearly two full periods. Former Sabres winger Miroslav Satan plunged head-first into a crease pileup, and defenseman Brendan Witt went feet first to bowl over Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. The puck slid over the line, but referee Mike Leggo waved it off."

That's just vintage stuff right there.

 

***

Wednesday, April 18, 11:15 pm: The non-goal that was a goal

Let's try to make this clear and simple, sticking only to the facts:

* After the puck went in the net, Islanders center Mike Sillinger was told by the referees that the decision of "goal or no goal" would ultimately be made by NHL headquarters in Toronto.
 
* In a phone conversation after the game, Stephen Walkom, the NHL VP and Director of Officiating, told Islanders general manager Garth Snow that the call was made by the referees on the ice.

* Walkom told Snow the referees disallowed the goal because Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt crashed into Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, causing the puck to cross the goal line.

* There is at least one clear, definitive replay that shows the puck sitting on the goal line between Miller's legs and then Brendan Witt, uncontested, skating in and slamming the puck into the net. Not a player on either team touches Miller until well after the puck crosses the goal line. Witt never touches Miller at all.

* The Islanders practice at the Coliseum tomorrow before traveling to Buffalo. Game 5 is Friday at 7:05 at HSBC Arena.

***

Wednesday, April 18, 1:45 pm: Rick's All Islanders, the Best of Ted, Renney supports

RICK'S RAPID DEVELOPMENT
If you were here for Game 3, you saw Islanders TV's cool series-opening segment which ended with a message from Rick DiPietro. What you don't know is the latest proof the goaltender understands the team concept better than most. When asked to "perform" for the video, the script given to Rick called for him to say, "I'M back. Game 3 starts now." DiPietro, knowing this is not about him, insisted on reading it as "WE'RE back. Game 3 starts now." Subtle difference, yet all the difference in the world.


TODAY'S BEST OF TED
Ted Nolan was asked during the morning press conference whether he felt the team would have to play desperate hockey. "There's no desperation," said Nolan. "We don't like to use the word 'desperation' very much. We have to play better and with a little more intensity and enthusiasm. I thought we started the last game well, but I told the guys this morning that it's all about good puck movement. I've been coaching a while, seen a lot of fast skaters, but I don't know of any players who can move faster than the puck. We need to take advantage of that. It's important that we have better positioning and puck support."

Nolan was asked about his thought process on pre-game speeches. "I've never written down any notes that I'm going to say for a pre-game speech," said Ted. "I don't know how important they really are considering I never remember one pre-game speech when I was a player. The key is the preparation and setting a game plan with information about the other team."

We've seen Ryan Smyth's on-ice leadership and heard about his off-ice leadership, so what is it about Smyth's leadership that we haven't seen? "Ryan can be vocal and lead by example," said Ted. "He was the first one to talk to us after the game about making adjustments to the power play. Ryan wasn't worried about any bad calls, he was just worried about the next game. He's very insightful about the game. That's what leadership is all about." 

Tom Poti and Marc-Andre Bergeron have been matching up against the Daniel Briere line with some success this series. Briere and Jason Pominville each have one even-strength assist, while Jochen Hecht, their linemate, has no points in three games. "They're both energy guys," said Nolan, referring to Poti and Bergeron. "Poti has a long reach which is important in today's game because you can no longer clutch and grab. He does an effective job on the pokechecks. Bergie battles hard and has the speed, which is important against the speed of that line."


BLUELINES
News & Notes from Wednesday's morning skate

* Following the morning skate, Randy Robitaille talked about working on the power play during Tuesday's practice: "There weren't any trick plays. We just worked on things for repetition. The coaches emphasized getting pucks to the net. The toughest thing all series has been getting set up in the zone. You always want to carry it in, but teams are so good now defensively that you often have to dump it in. The first key to dumping the puck in is keeping it away from the goalie. You either can throw a soft dump into the corner or blast it around, so he can't stop it. After that it's a crap shoot. They'll generally get to the puck first, so you try to block the passing lanes. It's easier for them because they're just trying to whack it out. We have one extra guy, so we need to use that to our advantage."

* Rangers coach Tom Renney on WFAN this morning on the chances of the Islanders: "I wouldn't bet against them making this a tough series. They really buy into what Ted wants over there, and that's not a surprise. They bring an intensity, a high emotional level every night and they are well-coached. Plus you have Ricky, who's one of the best goaltenders in the game and has looked sharp since he came back. Buffalo is a great team and it won't be easy, but I believe the Islanders are going to give them a series."
 

***

Tuesday, April 17, 3:40 pm: Practice report; Ted vents; Sillinger-Drury

THE BEST OF TED

On the calls his Islanders didn't receive on Monday, Ted Nolan today said it was all about the "respect factor." Nolan talked about how there are some teams and players that get the calls and some that do not and how his team has to earn that respect. A Buffalo News reporter pointed out to the former Sabres coach the irony of him implying that Buffalo's team is now one of those getting the calls.

Later on, Nolan admitted he was getting a little tired of hearing how good the Sabres are. "The first day we talked about the Sabres' strengths and how good they are," said Nolan. "Everyone knows how good they are. The entire hockey world tells us how good they are. But we're not too concerned with that. We're concerned with how we're playing.

"I don't buy the underdog card, but I buy the respect card. Everyone keeps telling us how talented they are and good they are, over and over. That's getting old. We have a good group of guys here, a proud group of guys. We just have to play our game. If we play that way, anything can happen."


BLUELINES
News & Notes from Tuesday's practice


* The Islanders spent a majority of time in practice working on the power play after going 0-for-4 last night and 1-for-11 in the series. "The power play hasn't been working quite the way we wanted it to," said Nolan. "The Sabres did some things to counter our strengths on the power and today we worked on some things to counter them."
 
* Although very subject to change, some of the power play units we saw in practice today included:

Kozlov - Sillinger - Smyth
Poti - Bergeron


Blake - Robitaille - Hunter
Campoli - Gervais

* Nolan indicated that he wasn't disappointed in the way his team came out in the third period, stating that his team was giving it their all and admitting that fatigue might have played a minor role. "We're playing a very fast team and it wears on you," said Nolan. "We learned from that and we'll play a more four-line action tomorrow night. If we roll four lines and keep our shifts shorter we'll keep the consistency we showed in the first period throughout the entire game."

* To accommodate the media crunch, the post-skate interviews were moved into the Islanders' workout, where a small platform was set up for the interviewees. When Mike Sillinger saw what he'd be stepping on, he jokingly said, Hey, it's the Jason Blake stool." When asked what it's been like teaming up with Ryan Smyth on a line, Sillinger smiled and said, "Last night he scored and assisted on goals when I wasn't on the ice. Maybe I should change quicker from now on."

* Through three games in the playoffs, Mike Sillinger ranks third in the league in faceoff percentage, converting at a rate of 68.5%. That's no small task considering a majority of his faceoffs have come against Chris Drury, who tied Sillinger during the regular season, winning 58.8% of his draws. "Chris Drury is fantastic on faceoffs," said Sillinger. "More often than not I've caught him on my strong side. We're both right-handed, so when I'm on my strong side I think I have the advantage and when he is, he probably thinks the same way."

* Scouts Ryan Jankowski and Tony Feltrin, over in Finland to watch the World Under-18 Tournament, used a Slingbox to catch Game Three despite it's 2:30 am Finnish time start. "I went to bed at around 10 pm for a four-hour nap and then watched the game with Tony," said Jankowski. "It would have been easier to go back to bed following the game if there had been an Islanders victory, but the guys are playing hard and we're looking forward to Game 4."

***

Monday, April 16, 12:45 pm: LIVE from the morning skate

BLUELINES
News & Notes from today's morning skate


* Ted Nolan at today's post-skate press conference on moving captain Alexei Yashin from one line to the next: "We set a tone from the beginning of the season that no one player is more important than the other. So Alexei Yashin is equal to Richard Park who's equal to Ryan Smyth who's equal to Andy Hilbert. That's our style. That's the way we play and everyone understands." When asked where Yashin will be tonight, Nolan said, "Probably where he finished last game, but we have to try and keep some family secrets, no?"

* You have to give Rick DiPietro a lot of credit: the guy gets it. He understands that this is a game, a form of entertainment. After going on "Mike & The Mad Dog" this morning he took on waves of reporters after today's skate and seemed to enjoy every minute of it. "This is what it's all about," said DiPietro. "If you can't enjoy this..." When asked about the feeling in the locker room, Ricky responded, "A lot of people predicted us to get swept in four, so it definitely brings some life into the locker room earning the split."

* Another topic of conversation this morning was the play of the young defense tandem of Bruno Gervais and Chris Campoli. "They've been outstanding," said Nolan. "Especially with the Sabres being so fast, we need their young legs and mobility. I think both kids have acquitted themselves well. This is a big spot for two young players like them, but they've handled it like pros. I'm not really surprised because both Chris and Bruno have tremendous attitudes, a great approach to the game and everything that comes with it."

* There's no arguing that Gervais' goal in Game Two wasn't the hardest wrist shot he's taken in his career, but of course the team was happy to see it go in. That didn't keep his teammates from giving it to him this morning after practice. While being asked about his goal by FSN's Deb Kaufman, Bruno heard it from Campoli. "Heavy shot, eh?" said Campy. "Yeah, heavy shot," Bruno chirped back. Whatever happened to Bruno's first playoff scoring puck anyway? It turns out head athletic trainer Garrett Timms got a hold of it. "The puck will be going back to my home in Quebec," said Bruno. "We have a huge room, half the size of our locker room that has all of my family's accomplishments."

* At Lindy Ruff's press conference, he reiterated his concern that the Sabres were way too fancy in Game 2 and his confidence his team will be more effective by keeping things simple tonight at the Coliseum. The Islanders will have a hard time keeping the 11 Buffalo forwards not named Chris Drury off the scoresheet the rest of the series.

* Especially with the series gaining life after the Islanders' victory on Saturday, it's more apparent than ever the beautiful old barn on Hempstead Turnpike just cannot handle the press that comes with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team used to be able to make it through the media crunch that comes with a first round series, but this is really pushing it. Fans going tonight are likely to see creative new camera positions and auxiliary press tables to fit the demand. Don't worry: they won't be in anyone's way. And yes, all this media attention is a good problem to have.

* Trent Hunter is one of only five Islanders (Rick DiPietro, Arron Asham, Jason Blake and Alexei Yashin) in the lineup to play a home playoff game at the Nassau Coliseum. Hunter began his NHL career by suiting up for the Islanders in the 2002 playoffs against Toronto. "The first experience I had at the Coliseum was during the playoffs and the crowd made it really exciting," said Hunter. "I remember coming off the ice after the game and my ears were ringing for about an hour. It's an amazing atmosphere and exciting to play in. I can't wait to see it tonight."

* Marc-Andre Bergeron was seen taking extra one-timers at the point from his pal Ryan Smyth during the morning skate on Saturday morning. Practice paid off as Bergeron lit the lamp with a one-timer from Tom Poti in almost the exact spot he was practicing. "That's why you practice," said Bergeron. "I've been shooting pucks for so long that it's automatic. Now it's just about being consistent and hitting the net. It's been great playing with Poti. His best quality is his passing. He's done a really good job at the point with me on the power play and I'm thankful to be playing with him."

* Sean Hill has been through the playoffs a number of times - six in all - and has been one of the veteran voices in the locker room all season long. "I've just been telling the guys to just stay in the moment and not get too far ahead of themselves," said Hill. "It's all about one shift at a time and winning those battles on each shift. There are so many distractions out there come playoff time and it's important to stay focused. The biggest thing is concentrating on the task at hand."

* Finally, maybe the best, most sincere compliments are when the microphones and cameras aren't on. When Rick DiPietro was hosting more than 20 reporters in his stall, Sean Hill - who's been around a while - looked over and said to one of the play-by-play announcers, "I'm telling you - they have no idea how good that kid is."


Reported by Jason Lockhart and Chris Botta

***

Sunday, April 15, 9:00 pm: Rick on WFAN on Monday morning

"Mike & The Mad Dog" will be in the Don Imus slot on WFAN (660 AM in New York) on Monday morning, and guess who will be one of their guests?
 
None other than Rick DiPietro. The Islanders star goaltender is expected to come on at approximately 8:25 am on Monday.
 
The radio show of Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo is expected to be very highly rated on Monday, especially since no one knows exactly what format they will follow in their two-week stint in the old "Imus in the Morning" time slot. Will it be a traditional sports program, like their popular afternoon show? Or will they mix in more politics, current affairs, entertainment and, of course, "The Sopranos"?
 
At least for a few minutes with DiPietro, it figures to be all Islanders-Sabres. But Rick is also a big sports fan, and he's big on pop culture, so it could be a fun and/or interesting few minutes.
 
Attention, Islanders Fans: If you have tickets for Monday, do everything you can to be at your seats by 7:20 pm. The Islanders TV and game ops crew have put together a special opening video for Game 3, and although we haven't seen the final cut, it looks to be a classic. Better yet, be there when warmups start at 7.

***

Sunday, April 15, 6:20 pm: This isn't 2004

The Islanders had a series of meetings before taking the ice for an optional practice at Iceworks this afternoon. Afterwards, the major theme was: will this first round playoff series be different for the Islanders than 2003 and 2004? Four springs ago, the Islanders won Game 1 in Ottawa and then lost four in a row. In 2004, the Islanders won Game 2 in Tampa Bay, then dropped the next three games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning. After the amazing series against Toronto in 2002 -- when the Islanders won all three games at Nassau Coliseum -- the Islanders have lost their last four home playoff games.
 
Add to that in 2007, most experts believed the Islanders didn't have a chance against the Buffalo juggernaut. Noted rocket scientist Jeremy Roenick even declared the series over after the Sabres took Game 1.
 
For the Islanders' part, they believe the comparison is irrelevant.
 
"There are not many guys back from those teams," said No. 1 goaltender Rick DiPietro, whose star rose even higher after his performance on Saturday night. "Nothing against those teams at all, but this group is different. We have many more veteran players who've been there before. Those teams didn't have Ryan Smyth, Sean Hill, Brendan Witt. We're playing arguably the best team in the league, but we have the veterans to guide us."
 
Jason Blake, who was on those 2003 and 2004 teams, said there was another major difference: "Rick DiPietro," said Blake. "He was fantastic in that Tampa series, definitely not the reason why we lost. But I believe Rick's even better now."
 
 
 
BLUELINES
News & Notes from Sunday's practice

 
* Based on Ted Nolan's post-practice comments, expect the same Islanders lineup for Game 3. When asked, Nolan said he had yet to decide if captain Alexei Yashin will be on a line with Richard Park and Andy Hilbert or with Miro Satan and Viktor Kozlov.
 
* Despite the weather, there was still a large crowd of young fans filling Islanders Iceworks. Although he may have been the backup last night, Wade Dubielewicz continues to be a big hit with the fans. Besides his near-legendary play last week, Dubie also interacts with the fans wonderfully.
 
* Game 3 on Monday will be on FSN in New York, VERSUS across the U.S. and TSN across Canada, not to mention Mears and Kinger on Bloomberg 1130 and the Sabres TV broadcast. With writers coming in from all over, the old press box at the Coliseum will be bursting at the seams.

***

Saturday, April 14, 11:15 pm: Ted and Ricky give us their thoughts on the Game Two victory and returning to the Coliseum

LEARNING FROM THE '04 PLAYOFF RUN
Buffalo, NY

"I felt really good out there. I'd be lying to you if I didn't have some nerves. I think every athlete has some nerves, maybe even Tiger Woods.

The team did a great job of letting me see all the shots early on. It got me into the flow of the game and got me prepared for the rest of the way. That save on Vanek in the first period was a confidence builder.

Their fans were great in both games, but I know as a team we can't wait to get back on Long Island because we know how loud our fans can be. We don't have any doubt it will be as loud as any building in the NHL, and we really can't wait.

There were a couple of times I could have used a little WD-40 in the joints, but overall I felt great out there and it feels even better now. The Sabres have a great team. They didn't win the Presidents' Trophy for nothing. I have a lot of respect for them.

I had the opportunity to be in the series against Tampa Bay a few of years ago when we did the same exact thing. We hung in there in the first game and then won the second game. Then we got to the Coliseum, where they played great, we didn't play well and the series ended quickly. I learned from that and the team did too. We can't take anything for granted. We're going to have to play even better to get the games on Long Island."

Posted At: 11:15 pm
Posted By: RICK DIPIETRO, ISLANDERS GOALTENDER

 


WE CAN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO THE COLISEUM
Buffalo, NY


"The one thing I believe everyone underrates about DiPietro is his competitive spirit. I have coached a lot of athletes through the years and he just has some intangibles I can't describe.

Dubie did an unbelievable job getting us in here when no one thought we had a chance. But if anyone had any doubts, they saw tonight what Ricky brings to the Islanders.

I'm really excited about Monday. It's an opportunity for our franchise to show the rest of the hockey world what an unbelievable fan base we have. I didn't know what to expect when I got this job, but there were more than a dozen games when the crowd was as loud as I've ever heard in an arena. I can't imagine how loud it will be Monday night. We need them. I'm sure we're going to have full house and the place will be rockin'."

Posted At: 11:05 pm
Posted By: TED NOLAN, ISLANDERS HEAD COACH

***

Saturday, April 14, 3:30 pm: Who will it be - DP or Dubie?

You had to be there. Ted Nolan, determined to not announce his starter for Game 2 after today's morning skate, did his best to stare down the media at his post-morning skate press conference.

Ted said he'd talk to the goalies and make a decision before tonight's game. He also said Rick DiPietro played well in yesterday's practice at this morning's workout and when DiPietro says he's ready to go, "Rick will go."

Al Strachan of the Toronto Sun asked Ted, "If you're telling us you'll play DiPietro when he says he's ready, and we know DiPietro is ready, what's the holdup on the announcement"?

Nolan gave one of his Yogi Berraesque answers - also reminiscent of Al Arbour - where you leave wondering what the heck it was he just said.

A few minutes later, Strachan tried again: "In this day and age of the Internet, news travels quickly. So Ted, when do you think word will get out on your starter"?

Ted said, "We're not really concerned about the Internet right now."

Everyone laughed, then walked out of the room assuming DiPietro will be the starter.

We shall see.

***

Friday, April 13, 7:10 pm: Reporter apologizes to NYI coaching staff

The Islanders coaching staff received a heartfelt, man-to-men apology after practice today from one of the Buffalo-based reporters who wrote the team did not receive accurate pre-scouting information for Game 1.

At least two area reporters - one for a major newspaper, one a blogger - wrote about what they saw on a large dry-erase board in the Islanders dressing room yesterday. On the board where coaches write opposition line combinations and D pairings, Sabres center Tim Connolly's name was absent and other Buffalo players were not listed in correct formation. Wrote one reporter: "Signs of slapdash postseason preparations were troubling."

But here was the problem: before the media was allowed access to the Islanders room after the morning skate, the board was turned around. The information seen by reporters came from the hand of an assistant coach of an NHL team that visited HSBC Arena over a week ago.

Oops, never mind.

On a positive note, one journalist offered to not only print a retraction in tomorrow's paper, but also face the music today with the Islanders coaching staff. The conversation had its tense moments, but was professional, cordial and in the end, appreciated.

Fact is, the morning after the Shocker at the Swamp, the coaching staff had a three-hour meeting with Islanders scouts Ken Morrow and Chris O'Sullivan, who (as previously reported in this blog) followed Buffalo for weeks, culminating in a visit to Philadelphia for the Flyers-Sabres regular season finale. On Tuesday, the players received a manual - like you would see Eric Mangini give his Jets - with everything you could possibly know about Lindy Ruff's team.

End of story.

***

Friday, April 13, 3:20 pm:  Starter announced Saturday

Rick DiPietro was upbeat and looked great today in the team's full practice in Amherst, NY. Following the skate, Ted Nolan would not commit to a starter. "It was good to have Rick back out with everyone," said Nolan. "But the decision about our starting netminder will be made tomorrow."

Added DiPietro "I can't tell you how great it was to be out there with my teammates. If I get the chance, I look forward to getting back in goal and helping the team win."

***

Friday, April 13, 10:30 am: The coach calls The Coach

HI MRS. ARBOUR. IS THE COACH HOME?

BUFFALO -- About one hour before the opening faceoff of Game 1, Ted Nolan wandered the halls of the HSBC Arena in Buffalo looking for cellphone coverage. He had a very important call to make to Longboat Key, Florida.

His journey took him to the loading docks, where he finally found a clear signal. All the preparations for his Islanders for Game 1 were complete. There was one more thing he had to do.

"Hello, Claire? This is Ted Nolan, the coach of the Islanders. I was wondering if your husband was home"?

Claire's husband, of course, is the Hall of Fame coach of the four-time Stanley Cup champion Islanders.

Nolan spent a little more than five minutes on the phone with Al Arbour, a kid-like smile on his face throughout. Arbour told Nolan that he was proud of him and his old team, the way they kept the Islanders tradition of battling to the end. "We sure made it interesting, Al," said Nolan.

The current coach asked the legend for advice on the series against the mighty Sabres. "Play hard," said Arbour, echoing the signs Nolan had just posted in the Islanders room at HSBC hours earlier. "And have fun. You guys can do this"! The Coach added.

The two gentlemen wished each other well before Nolan made a last request: "Hey Coach, if we do our part, I'd really like to make arrangements so we can see you at the Coliseum."

Ted closed his phone and said, "That was amazing. I'm ready now."

***

Thursday, April 12, 11:30 pm: DiPietro cleared to play

POSTGAME NEWS ALERT

Following tonight's game in Buffalo, it was announced that Rick DiPietro has been medically cleared to play. DiPietro will participate in the team's practice at 1:00 pm on Friday in nearby Amherst, New York.

 

***

 

Thursday, April 12, 1:20 pm: Live from the Game 1 morning skate

(BUFFALO) - Random notebook items scribbled while watching the Islanders' warmup at HSBC...


The Islanders look as loose as you would think, considering most experts opinions that "they have nothing to lose."

Mighty impressed by Richard Zednik's commitment to his team. It's an even bigger deal than anyone could imagine...

Greg Logan of Newsday picked the Sabres in six games. We've yet to find any other major news outlet picking the Sabres in any more than five games. You think the coaching staff might bring that up tonight?

One of the many charms of Ted Nolan is that he's so passionate about his team and the game; sometimes he gets so worked up in interviews that he unleashes some classic Yogi-like phrases. Discussing the Islanders' role as major underdogs in this series, the coach has likened it to "Samson and Goliath."

WFAN's Mike Francesa after an interview with Nolan last night: "That's an easy team to root for."

When Michael Wilbon predicted on "Pardon the Interruption" yesterday a Cup for Buffalo, Long Island-raised Tony Kornheiser yelled before going off the year, "Hey, how about my Islanders, a TRUE New Yawk team"!

Based on this morning's workout and recent practices, here are your likely combinations for Game 1 tonight in Buffalo:

Smyth-Sillinger-Hunter
Blake-Robitaille-Asham
Yashin-Kozlov-Satan
Zednik-Park-Hilbert

Witt/Hill
Poti/Bergeron
Campoli/Gervais

Dubielewicz
Dunham


The Islanders training staff has done their best to make the visiting-team locker room at HSBC Arena feel like home. There are Islanders logos on the door and throughout the room. In addition, there are signs that say: Islanders Pride. Play Hard. Play Smart. Play Together.

Starting goalie Wade Dubielewicz was at his most relaxed and energetic best this morning when the Sabres got off the ice and he took charge, leading the team onto the ice ten minutes before the 11:00 am scheduled practice time. "I wish the game was right now," said Dubie.

Speaking about his family watching back home, Dubie said, "I kind of feel bad for them. They'll be nervous. Once the game starts there isn't much they can do. I at least have some control over the outcome. But I'll tell you this: I really want to make them proud."


- Chris Botta

***

Wednesday, April 11, 7:10 pm: Underdog approach, Ash's new line, scouting Buffalo

FLYNN'S BREAKDOWN
We went straight to our resident scouting expert, assistant coach Danny Flynn, to find out what we can expect from the Buffalo Sabres in the opening round of the playoffs. Here is Flynn's analysis:

Goaltending: "The key to Ryan Miller is his poise. He's been really good under pressure in the playoffs and the regular season. The Sabres like to play a wide-open style and they feel confident that if they get caught that he can bail them out."

Defense: "Their defense is a little different than a lot of the teams. It's made up of puck movers and skill. They're not overly physical nor a mix of skill and toughness like you see on a lot of other teams. They believe the way the game has changed they can have guys who move the puck and attack. All six defensemen on their team move the puck well and jump into the play."

Forwards: "Their drafting and player development has been good, especially up front. Most teams go with two offensive lines, a checking line and an energy line. They have three offensive lines that are more balanced than any team in the league. They have outstanding scoring from all three lines and an energy fourth line. It's tough to key on one line because they're so balanced."

Ted Nolan admits it will be tough to match up lines against Buffalo on the road, since the Islanders have the first change. However, he hopes to put the defensive pairing of Sean Hill and Brendan Witt up against the Daniel Briere line, which also contains Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht. Ted also expressed his confidence for the young defensive tandem of Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais. "It's all about confidence," said Nolan. "If I show I have confidence in them, I can seem them responding to that. It's going to be an emotional series with both arenas packed, and it's important that we keep our emotions in check."


TAMBY'S STRETCH: PRICELESS
So we've figured out the Islanders' good luck charm at the end of the season. It's none other than Jeff Tambellini. At a practice prior to the Rangers' game, Ryan Smyth told Tambellini to lead the team in the stretches. Well, you know what happened in that game, so Tambellini was told to continue to lead the team in stretching, and sure enough it's worked like a charm.

Speaking of Tambellini, he might have only received a limited amount of ice time during the game - 2:11 - but he certainly earned his fair share of ink time on Monday morning. Since Tambellini was the first to embrace the hero of the game - Dubie - the former number one draft pick saw his face (and back) on newsstands all across New York.  "My mom told me to grab multiple copies of each paper so she could cut them out," admitted Tambellini.

 

BLUELINES
News & Notes from today's practice

* Going into the first round of the playoffs as heavy underdogs is not new to at least two Islanders, who played with the 2006 eighth-seeded and Stanley Cup finalist Edmonton Oilers. Ryan Smyth and Marc-Andre Bergeron stunned the Presidents' Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings in six games last year before falling to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals. "Last year we went into Detroit and respected their talent and veteran leadership they had," said Smyth, "but we didn't give them any leeway, and that's what we have to do here. We have to play with confidence and conviction. Buffalo has all the pressure."

* When things weren't clicking a couple of weeks ago, Ted Nolan decided to shake up the lines. He removed Ryan Smyth off the Jason Blake-Randy Robitaille line and moved him alongside Mike Sillinger and Trent Hunter. Arron Asham was put on Blake and Robitaille's line at the start of the Islanders' four-game winning streak and has responded with two goals and an assist. "It's nice having Ash on our wing because he complements our line well," said Robitaille. "He has a right-handed shot, which is good, since Blakey and I are both a left shot. It helps especially when we're coming out of the corners and looking for the one-timer in the slot. Ash has got a great shot and works the corners well."

* Richard Zednik is back and will be joining the duo of Richard Park and Andy Hilbert on what Nolan calls "the so-called fourth line." "It's exciting to be back and have a chance to play in the playoffs," said Zednik. "I've felt good in the practices we had, and we'll see how it goes in the game. The playoffs are what you're playing for. Every game is do or die. Everybody is playing their best and I like to compete, so I want to be the best. You're playing for the Stanley Cup and you want to do everything in your power to help the team."

* Mike Sillinger is now a perfect 2-0 in clinching the playoffs in the team's final game. Prior to this year's 3-2 shootout drama over New Jersey, Sillinger participated in a must-win game on April 13, 2006. The Canucks edged the Flames 5-0 to reach earn the seventh spot, one point ahead of Winnipeg and Anaheim. "It was the same scenario in both cases, but Sunday's game was much more exciting than our easy victory over Calgary." While an easy win over New Jersey would have been nice, it makes this playoff berth so much sweeter for everyone involved.

***

Tuesday, April 10, 9:50 pm: Ice Girls Rule, Series No. 4 vs. the Sabres

ICE GIRLS RULE
The NHL today re-enforced to its teams the importance of smooth ice-clearing procedures during the TV timeouts. One couldn't help but wonder if this was a result of last Tuesday's Islanders-Rangers game at the Coliseum when things didn't go so, uh, smoothly.


The NHL reiterated the following:

* Ice crews must proceed directly to the areas they are responsible for clearing. In other words, no double-axels on the way to Ryan Miller's goal
 
* Ice crew members should not communicate with players and fans
 
* There should be no direct or indirect physical contact between players and crew members
 
* Players are not to leave the bench are during the timeout
 
* Goaltenders MUST vacate the crease and skaters MUST leave room at the bench areas for the snow to be cleared
 
* On-Ice Officials will enforce the mandates and teams are subject to discipline if they break the rules.

 

A PLAYOFF PAST

Islanders face off against Buffalo for fourth time in postseason play

When the Islanders visit the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday evening at the HSBC Arena, it will be the first time in 27 years that the two teams have clashed in the playoffs. In the first three meetings the Islanders prevailed, including in 1980, on their way to their first of four Stanley Cups.

That year, the teams met in the semifinals with the right to reach the Stanley Cup Final. The Islanders stole both opening road games and Game Three at home to take a commanding lead in the series. Buffalo fought back, winning the next two, before the Islanders clinched it in Game Six, 5-2.

"They were one of the best teams in the league that year," recalls Islanders great Ken Morrow, now the team's pro scouting director. "That Buffalo team wasn't like the Bruins and Flyers that year, who were really physical teams. The Sabres were more of a skilled team that you would see today. They had one of the best lines in the league - the French Connection of Gilbert Perreault, Danny Gare and Rick Martin. They were tough to stop because of their speed and finesse.

"It was a tough series, and I remember Bobby Nystrom having to score in double overtime to win Game Two. It was a thrill to win that series because it was the first time the Islanders reached the Stanley Cup Final."

Prior to that series, the Islanders and Sabres met in the quarterfinals in consecutive years, 1976 and 1977. The 1976 quarterfinal series saw the Sabres grab a 2-0 lead at home before being swept in the next four games.

In that series, Denis Potvin led the way with four goals and five assists. Jude Drouin, who played with the Islanders from 1974-78, tallied three goals and four assists, while Bryan Trottier, J.P. Parise and Billy Harris each contributed five points.

The following year, the Islanders won four straight games, after earning home ice advantage, having finished with two more points than the Sabres in the regular season. The Islanders won all four games 4-2 expect for Game Three, which was a 4-3 final. Harris (3-3-6) and Trottier (1-5-6) were the team's offensive leaders in the four-game series.


- Jason Lockhart
 
 
PRESS NOTES
 
The Al Trautwig-hosted "Hockey Night in New York Live" playoff special will be replayed on Wednesday at 11:00 am and 4 and 7:00 pm. Ted Nolan and Mike Sillinger are the Islanders guests. In addition, Billy Jaffe and Chris King do a roundtable with Sabres TV commentator Rob Ray.
 
Do not miss Islanders TV during the first round and beyond. If you haven't signed up for the free subscription, go to the homepage of this website and do it now! It is an Islanders fan's dream come true.
 

***

Tuesday, April 10, 4:00 pm: Dubie 'more than likely,'  Rick skates, Zednik could play Game 1

DUBIE GETS THE CALL
Ted Nolan did not pull any punches. He could have waited as late as Thursday's morning skate to declare his goaltender for that night's Game 1 in Buffalo. Instead, he cut to the chase.

"(Wade) Dubielewicz has been playing great and right now it looks like he'll continue to play," said Nolan. "We'd like to have our injured players back, but we can't focus on the injured players. We have to worry about the guys we have. My job is to get the players that are ready to play prepared for the Buffalo Sabres. When the doctors and the medical staff tell me someone is ready to play, then it's a coach's decision."

When asked by Newsday's Greg Logan, "So then are we looking at Dubie in Game One?" Ted said, "More than likely."

 

RICK SKATES
Rick DiPietro skated with goaltender coach Giles Lefebvre and stopped from Shawn Bates from 11:00 - 11:45 am today prior to the team practice, which he did not take part in. DiPietro had a smile on his face and said, "I feel great." Later on, speaking with more than a dozen reporters, the goaltender said, "As a group, the medical staff, (trainer) Garrett Timms and myself are continuing to do all the right things. Of course, I'm dying to get back out there, but we will continue to take all the right steps. Mike Richter gave me some good advice: 'Listen to your body.' My focus is on getting healthy and supporting my teammates while I'm out."

 

RZ RETURNS, COULD PLAY GAME 1
Providing an additional emotional lift to the team, veteran forward Richard Zednik arrived from Slovakia to take part in practice at Islanders Iceworks. Zednik had been away from the team since March 24 to deal with family matters back home. After practice, Ted Nolan said it would be wrong to assume that Zednik will need extra time to get ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Zednik skated yesterday, today and he'll skate tomorrow and Thursday morning," said Nolan. "You look at his track record in the playoffs. There aren't too many players who have produced more in the playoffs than he has. He's a playoff performer and that's one of the reasons why we got him. He went home to take care of his family issues and now he's ready to go. I can see him coming in Thursday."

In a recent column on SI.com, Zednik was listed among "Five That Thrive," players who turn it up a notch in the postseason, joining Martin St. Louis, Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla and Brad Richards.

 

BLUELINES
News & Notes

Islanders Iceworks was packed today with Islanders fans looking to catch a glimpse or an autograph from their playoff-bound team. When Ted Nolan stepped off the ice after practice, he was greeted with thunderous applause. He smiled, waved and said, "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

Bruno's back! And 100%. "It was frustrating to be sitting on the sidelines for so long," said Bruno Gervais, who is returning after a long absence with a high ankle sprain. "We've come a long way with the injury, but it's been good to go for some time now. It feels good to get back in the lineup and help the team in the playoffs." Gervais will likely be paired with his former Bridgeport defense partner, Chris Campoli, whom he played with during the 2004-05 season. "It'll be like back in our heyday," Bruno said with a smile...

Miroslav Satan chose to downplay the matchup against his former team and focus on the difficulty the Islanders have ahead with the Presidents' Trophy winners. "It's going to be a challenge for all of us," said Satan. "The good thing is that we've had a lot of pressure the last few weeks and we were able to come through. It's going to be another good test. Everyone expects them to win, so we're going into this like we've got nothing to lose."

Wade Dubielewicz does have some playoff experience at the pro level, only it's in the AHL, where he has suited up for ten postseason contests. Dubie was honest about comparing the two situations. "This is a different scale," said Dubielewicz. "This is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is it. I'll do whatever I can to draw from my past playoff experience, but realistically it's not the same as the NHL." Dubie can, however, draw on his experience from earlier this season when he came in relief of Mike Dunham and faced these same Buffalo Sabres on March 30, allowing one goal on 17 shots in two periods. "Sitting on the bench in the first period, I'll be honest: I was scared to go in!" admitted Dubie. "To turn it around against these guys, we have to play every shift like it's our last."

 

PRESS NOTES
Most popular interviews after today's practice: Wade Dubielewicz, Rick DiPietro, Ryan Smyth, Ted Nolan...

Plans in the works tomorrow for a Dubie interview on the Joe Benigno/Evan Roberts show on WFAN in the 12 noon hour and a "Mike & The Mad Dog" spot with Ted Nolan after the Islanders land in Buffalo, somewhere around 5:00 pm. In Nolan's last spot with Russo and Francesa on March 21, despite his team dropping three games on a four-game road trip, Nolan professed faith the Islanders would make the playoffs...

SERIES A - BUFFALO SABRES versus NEW YORK ISLANDERS

 

 

                                - BUFFALO -               - NY ISLANDERS -

 

Overall Record                53-22- 7 -- 113             40-30-12 --  92

  Games  1-20                 16- 3- 1 --  33             10- 7- 3 --  23

  Games 21-40                 13- 5- 2 --  28              9-11- 0 --  18

  Games 41-60                 11- 7- 2 --  24             10- 5- 5 --  25

  Games 61-82                 13- 7- 2 --  28   

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