UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The New York Islanders' pre-game skate Thursday morning provided no concrete conclusion to the saga of who would start in goal hours later against the New York Rangers.
Would it be Rick DiPietro, who missed the previous two games following the death of his grandmother?
Or would coach Ted Nolan turn again to backup goalie Wade Dubielewicz, who played fairly well in DiPietro's absence and posted a shootout win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday?
Dubielewicz (6-5-0) has 13 wins in 29 career NHL games. DiPietro was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft and is in the second season of a 15-year contract with the Islanders.
"It's a good decision," said Nolan. "You want tough decisions. When it's easy, the competition isn't there."
DiPietro (26-24-7) took the loss to Philadelphia on Saturday and then headed to New England for the wake and funeral for his grandmother. He expected to return to the team and play Tuesday against the Rangers, but was convinced by Islanders general manager Garth Snow to take another day with his family.
Reluctantly, he did, and was back on the ice Wednesday for practice.
Nolan hinted after Tuesday's 4-3 victory that there was a good chance he would use Dubielewicz in goal for the Rangers rematch.
DiPietro got the feeling Wednesday, after doing extra work in practice, that Dubielewicz would play. He held that opinion Thursday and stayed on the ice a little longer, typical of a goalie who wouldn't be starting that night.
"I was told I wasn't playing," DiPietro said. "At the end of the day, that's a coach's decision. Dubie has played well. It was unfortunate I was away a couple of days and missed time."
Nolan said the decision wasn't final.
"Ricky has to concentrate on being a goaltender and we'll concentrate on coaching the team," he said. "We're in the business of winning games, so you've got to go with the hot goaltender - if that's the case - or you come back with our No. 1 guy. Either way it's a tough decision."
Dubielewicz seemed surprised Wednesday when it was suggested he might get a second straight start against the Rangers, who scored only once in six shootout attempts on him Tuesday.
Nolan told him after the skate ended Thursday morning to be ready.
"He's going to make a game-time decision, so I'm preparing like I'm going to play, whether that's the case or not," Dubielewicz said. "I'm human. I want to play. I'm looking forward to hopefully getting the start, and if I do get the call to be ready. If I don't, then definitely disappointed.
"I definitely wish I knew if I was going or not. That would make the afternoon a little easier, but it's not going to be a big deal. I'm just going to prepare like I'm playing. It's that simple."