The Dallas Stars and New York Islanders coach Scott Gordon both were happy with
goaltender Rick DiPietro's return to the NHL on Friday night -- for vastly different reasons.
Gordon was pleased with the performance of DiPietro, who hadn't played an NHL game since Jan. 2, 2009, due to knee injuries that required surgery and a lengthy rehab process.
The Stars were happy after their three-goal second period and some goaltending heroics in the final minutes by a previously shaky Marty Turco enabled them to go home with a 4-3 victory.
"I thought it was a great first game for him," Gordon said after DiPietro stopped 24 of 28 shots. "Considering where he's come from, he made some big saves when we needed them. For a first game, I'll take it."
The year away from the NHL showed at times -- DiPietro was not nearly as aggressive as usual in playing the puck and left a big rebound that turned into Brad Richards' game-winning goal late in the second period. But he also often was left to fend for himself as the Isles' checkers and defense gave him little help on numerous occasions.
"I'm not going to lie: I was nervous, but I got a chance to handle the puck a couple of times, made a few saves and ease my way into it," DiPietro said. "
Linemates Richards and Loui Eriksson each had a goal and an assist as the Stars outshot the Islanders 28-22. Dallas dominated the first 50 minutes, then survived the Isles' push down the stretch -- including a frantic final 90 seconds in which John Tavares hit the post with a backhander, Turco made a handful of saves and the Stars were unable to clear the zone for more than a minute.
"Marty battled hard and came up big when he needed to in the third," captain Brenden Morrow said
Dallas snapped a three-game losing streak. The Stars are 9-2-2 in their last 13 at home; 1-6-3 in their previous 10 on the road, including losses to New Jersey and the New York Rangers earlier this week.
Friday's game is followed by a three-game trip that begins Sunday in Columbus.
"We'll take it," Morrow said of a win that was marred by some sloppy defensive plays by both sides in the first two periods. "We beat ourselves up pretty good over the last two games, so any positives we can find, we want to take those out of tonight and take it on the road."
Dallas needed just 4:44 to take the lead. Mike Modano won an offensive-zone draw back to Jeff Woywitka, who fed Trevor Daley at the right point. Daley's innocent-looking wrist shot was tipped by Toby Petersen high in the slot and went through the five-hole on DiPietro.
The Islanders tied it thanks to a fluke bounce. DiPietro threw a long clearing pass to Trevor Hunter, who lobbed a dump-in that hit the ice and made a right turn toward Turco instead of heading for the far corner. The puck bounced off Turco's pads right to Josh Bailey, who had outraced the defense and smacked home a backhander at 7:16 on the Isles' first shot. DiPietro got an assist.
That goal seemed to calm down both the Isles and their goaltender. The teams traded chances for the next 12 minutes before the Islanders capitalized on a turnover to take the lead. The Isles' aggressive forechecking forced Daley into a turnover behind the net, and Bailey's blind passout found Kyle Okposo for a quick snap shot past a stunned Turco at 19:19.
DiPietro finished the period with nine saves as the Stars outshot the Isles 10-6.
Turco kept it a one-goal game 3:45 into the second when he stopped Matt Moulson's backhander after good forechecking by the Isles left Moulson alone in front. The Stars quickly capitalized when a pass by Richards left Eriksson alone near the left hash marks, and Eriksson, the Stars' hottest goal-scorer, ripped a high wrister past DiPietro's glove at 4:18 to tie the game. It was his 18th, tying him with James Neal for the team lead.
Turco, who like DiPietro is an avid puckhandler, then cost his team a goal by being too aggressive. He gloved a flip shot, took a couple of steps toward the blue line and tried to bat the puck ahead. Instead, Moulson picked his pocket and fed Frans Nielsen for an easy backhander into a wide-open net at 7:47.
But before the Isles could enjoy their lead, it was gone. Defenseman Brendan Witt coughed up the puck behind his net, and Jamie Benn slipped a pass to Morrow, who buried a 10-footer past a defenseless DiPietro at 8:11.
At this point, there had been six goals scored on a combined total of 27 shots.
The Stars dominated the rest of the period and nearly took the lead with just under four minutes remaining when Tom Wandell's 20-foot wrister beat DiPietro but plinked the post before hitting the mesh. However, they did go ahead with 3:13 remaining when DiPietro stopped Eriksson's left-circle slap shot but left a juicy rebound that Richards punched into a wide-open net -- the first really bad goal he had allowed.
Said Richards: "I was hoping the puck would come out, and sometimes they come right on your stick. I got lucky."
DiPietro wasn't unhappy with his overall performance, but wasn't happy about the game-winner.
"The fourth goal was kind of a sloppy rebound on my part," he said, "and that's the kind of stuff that comes back and bites you."