GAME: Florida Panthers (17-21-11-3) at New York Islanders (24-20-5-2).
TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.
The New York Islanders don't have to wait any longer for Rick DiPietro to
mature into a No. 1 goaltender.
DiPietro, enjoying the best stretch of his career, will try to help the
Islanders extend their unbeaten streak against the Florida Panthers to eight
when the teams meet at Nassau Coliseum.
DiPietro, the top overall pick in the 2000 draft, struggled to make an
impact in his first two NHL seasons, compiling a 5-20-3 record with a 3.30
After splitting time with veteran Garth Snow for most of this season,
DiPietro has seized the starting job with a 4-1-1 record in his past six
starts. In those six games, DiPietro has stopped 178 of 188 shots for a .946
DiPietro had another strong game Thursday in his fourth straight start,
stopping 36 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss at Boston.
New York's Jason Blake turned the puck over in the extra period, allowing
Glen Murray to beat DiPietro on a breakaway at 2:25 for the victory.
"Our hockey club played well tonight, good enough to win," Blake said.
"It's my fault. I turned the puck over in a crucial time of the game and it
Despite missing three of their top forwards - centers Alexei Yashin and
Michael Peca and right wing Mark Parrish - the Islanders are holding onto
eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Yashin and Parrish are not expected
back until March, while Peca is day-to-day with a strained chest muscle.
The Islanders, who have earned at least a point in seven of eight games
(4-1-2-1), are 4-0-3 in their last seven meetings with the Panthers.
Florida is one of several teams chasing the Islanders for the final playoff
spot in the East, but also trails Atlanta, the New York Rangers and Buffalo.
Another outstanding performance by goalie Roberto Luongo helped the Panthers
gain a point with a 3-3 tie against visiting Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Luongo stopped 44 shots to reach the 40-save mark for the sixth time in his
last 13 games.
Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock had high praise for Luongo, who will make his
first All-Star appearance next month.
"I think everybody's talking about MVP in the league - to me, I think this
guy is MVP of the league," Hitchcock said. "Luongo is a guy who can steal
games, gets points maybe when they don't deserve them, and he's approaching
where at times he's intimidating."
Luongo, however, has struggled against the Islanders - the team that drafted
him in 1997. He is 2-7-1 with a 2.49 goals-against average in 13 games against