Rick DiPietro came. He saw. He conquered.
The New York Islanders goalie rode to his team's rescue with a stellar performance Saturday night in HSBC Arena to curb the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, in Game Two and even their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at a game apiece.
DiPietro was the difference. He hadn't played for three weeks because he suffered two concussions in a 12-day span, but he didn't look rusty. He made 32 saves, including several gargantuan denials to beat the NHL's highest-scoring team. DiPietro's presence also gave his team confidence to come out of its offensive shell.
"He's great for us," said Islanders defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, whose power-play goal broke a 2-2 tie with 11:23 left in the game. "Instead of playing defense, we can play offense. It's a lot of fun having him back there."
The Sabres sleepwalked through all but the last couple minutes of the first period and spent the rest of the game digging themselves out of a two-goal hole.
"We shouldn't [take the Islanders lightly]. There's no easy games," said defenseman Toni Lydman, who scored a late first-period goal that nudged the Sabres from their nap. "It's only going to get harder. Maybe this was our last chance to learn that lesson."
Buffalo tied the score 2:12 into the third on a sustained barrage that culminated with a Dmitri Kalinin goal. The home team was surging toward yet another of their dramatic comebacks, while New York didn't have a shot on net for more than eight minutes of the final period.
Then Sabres winger Maxim Afinogenov was penalized for hooking old friend Miroslav Satan with 12:02 to go. Thirty-nine seconds later, on the Isles' first shot, Bergeron scored on a one-timer to send the series back to Long Island even.
"When you spot a team a two-nothing lead, I thought we worked hard to get back in it," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Then we took an undisciplined penalty when we had all the momentum that gave them the opportunity to take the lead again."
Games Three and Four will be played in Nassau Coliseum on Monday and Wednesday. The series will return to Buffalo for Game Five on Friday.
"We're going to need to play an even better game at home," DiPietro said. The Sabres are "equally as good on the road as they are home. So we're going to have to continue to play well and smart."
The Islanders put a packed HSBC Arena on edge almost immediately, while the Sabres looked lost and a little overwhelmed.
"We just weren't moving," Ruff said. "We weren't getting there. You've got to give them some credit because they were really skating. They were doing a tremendous job backchecking. They were coming right up our forwards and picking pockets."
The Islanders bombarded Ryan Miller with 16 first-period shots. They broke through at 3:07 on their third shot. Center Mike Sillinger's offering from the top of the left circle glanced in off Trent Hunter's shin guard.
The arena was hushed by Bruno Gervais' long wrister that zipped through Miller's legs to give the Islanders a 2-0 lead with 8:57 remaining in the first period. Satan won the defensive-zone faceoff against Daniel Briere, drawing the puck to Gervais at the point for a shot at which Miller appeared to have a clear look.
Lydman brought the crowd to life a few minutes later with his second career playoff goal. Lydman's shot from between the circle tops made it past DiPietro to cut the Islanders' lead in half.
Though the Sabres didn't score despite two power plays in the second period, they outshot the Islanders, 14-7, and frequently buzzed around DiPietro.
Buffalo tied the score 2:12 into the third period with all five skaters within a 10-foot radius of DiPietro. Jochen Hecht made a backhand pass from behind the cage to Kalinin in the slot for a one-timer. Then Jason Pominville hacked at it, and then Daniel Briere before Kalinin punched through for his first career postseason goal.
The Islanders couldn't get its offense going for the first part of the third period, unable to get a puck on net for more than eight minutes. But when they finally got one, it counted. Bergeron blasted a one-timer from the right point that whistled inside the far post at 8:37.