A third-string goaltender has the New York Islanders on the verge of a very improbable playoff berth.
The Islanders will try to ride unlikely hero Wade Dubielewicz into the postseason Sunday when they visit nemesis Martin Brodeur and the Atlantic Division champion New Jersey Devils.
Any chance the Islanders (39-30-12) had at the playoffs appeared to end with a recent three-game losing streak that was due mainly to a concussion suffered by starting goaltender Rick DiPietro. Backup Mike Dunham played poorly in DiPietro's place, leaving coach Ted Nolan no choice but to go with Dubielewicz, who spent most of this season in the minors.
The 28-year-old Dubielewicz entered this season with only nine games of NHL experience but has looked like a poised veteran in four straight starts. He made 42 saves in a 5-2 loss to Ottawa March 31 and has turned aside 92 of 98 shots en route to three consecutive wins.
Dubielewicz was strong again Saturday, stopping 28 shots in a 4-2 victory at Philadelphia that kept the Islanders' playoff hopes alive. He is 3-1-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average in seven games.
That win, coupled with Toronto's 6-5 victory over Montreal, means the Islanders can clinch the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and set up a first-round matchup with Buffalo with a victory in this game. A loss of any kind by New York gives eighth place to the Maple Leafs.
"The thing we talked about was getting the opportunity to fight for the spot," Nolan said. "We did our part."
With DiPietro likely sidelined for the rest of the season, Dubielewicz is ready to prove he could be counted on in the postseason.
"I feel like I'll be playing, I think," he said.
Beating Brodeur and the Devils, however, isn't something the Islanders have done a lot lately. They have lost the last six meetings since a 5-2 victory in the first matchup of the season on Nov. 2.
Brodeur is 6-0-0 with a sparkling .966 save percentage and three 2-0 shutouts in those six games. He is 38-17-2 with four ties, a 2.17 goals-against average and 10 shutouts - his most against any team - in 63 career games versus the Islanders. Brodeur also has 38 wins against the New York Rangers, tying for his most against any opponent.
This game is virtually meaningless to the Devils (49-24-8), who have already locked up the second seed in the East and a first-round matchup with Tampa Bay.
Brodeur, though, figures to play as he is one appearance shy of his 79th of the season, which would match Grant Fuhr's NHL record set in 1995-96 with St. Louis. A victory in this game would give him 92 over last season and this season, one more than Hall of Famer Bernie Parent had with the Flyers in back-to-back seasons (1973-74 and 1974-75).
Brodeur set the NHL record for wins in a season with his 48th Thursday in a 3-2 victory at Philadelphia that also clinched the Atlantic for the Devils.
"I think with him being an icon as far as goalies for the Flyers, to go into Philly and do it here, I couldn't write it a lot better than that," Brodeur said.
Vancouver's Roberto Luongo won his 47th game Saturday in a 4-3 overtime win over San Jose. Luongo could match Brodeur if he wins Sunday at Phoenix.
Tuesday's victory was also the Devils' franchise-record 49th, surpassing the mark they set in 1997-98 and 2000-01. They have won four straight overall and are 2-0-0 since general manager Lou Lamoriello fired coach Claude Julien with three games left in the regular season and stepped behind the bench.
Devils right wing Brian Gionta hopes to play this game after sitting out Thursday with a foot injury.