BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Rick DiPietro made sure the New York
Islanders weren't going to give ground in the playoff race.
The Islanders goaltender stopped a career-high 42 shots, helping
New York to a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
The victory, New York's second in less than a week over Buffalo,
moved the eighth-place Islanders eight points ahead of the Sabres
in the race for the Eastern Conference's final playoff berth.
"It's huge," DiPietro said. "We realize there's still a lot
of games left to play. But we realize how important this was. We
didn't want to give them any momentum."
DiPietro was key in stunting any momentum the Sabres attempted
to generate early, stopping six shots in the first two minutes, and
all 17 in the first period.
"We suspected they were going to come hard," Islanders coach
Steve Sterling said. "And Ricky was equal to the task."
Oleg Kvasha had a goal and two assists, while Mariusz Czerkawski
and Mattias Weinhandl had a goal and an assist each in helping the
Islanders complete a four-game series sweep of Buffalo and beat the
Sabres for the seventh straight time, going back to Oct. 10, 2002.
Roman Hamrlik also scored for New York, which inched to within a
point of idle Montreal.
Chris Drury and J.P. Dumont each had a goal and an assist for
Buffalo, which has lost three straight since ending a six-game
unbeaten streak (5-0-1). It's been a dramatic turnaround for the
Sabres who only a week earlier had crept to within three points of
the Islanders and Montreal.
"It's not out of reach," coach Lindy Ruff said of the Sabres
playoff status. "But it's going to be tough. We need to fire on
Buffalo appeared to be doing just that against New York, only to
run into a hot goalie.
Besides his strong first-period effort, DiPietro secured the
victory by stopping all 19 shots directed at him in the third. That
included a three-shot flurry with 2:45 left.
DiPietro was sitting in the crease when Drury's backhander
deflected off his mask. DiPietro then stopped Adam Mair from in
close and Drury again, this time attempting a wraparound.
"He was unbelievable tonight," Kvasha said of DiPietro. "It
gives you confidence when the goalie plays like `Deep' played
tonight. It gives you extra jump."
After Dumont cut the Islanders lead to 3-2 with a power-play
goal with 2:14 left in the second period, Kvasha sealed the
victory, scoring 6:35 into the third.
It seemed fitting that Kvasha's goal came after DiPietro kicked
out his left skate to get a piece of Dmitri Kalinin's point shot,
which dribbled through a crowd.
The Islanders regained control of the puck with defenseman Kenny
Jonsson leading an odd-man rush the other way. Jonsson crossed the
Sabres' blue line and fed a pass across to Kvasha, who got a weak
shot off that fluttered past handcuffed goaltender Martin Biron.
The game had a feel of a playoff meeting, opening at a frantic
pace in which the teams combined for eight shots and several
scoring chances in the first 2:15.
The Islanders, coming off Thursday's 6-3 loss to the New York
Rangers, kept pace while playing their third game in four nights.
Bouncing back was an important motivator for the Islanders.
"Last night, I don't know what happened," Kvasha said. "It's
always good when you lose one to win the next one. The team feels
better, guys start laughing and you get back to normal."
Now it's the Sabres turn to regroup as they travel to play at
Ottawa on Saturday.
"It wasn't a knockout punch," Mair said of the loss. "We have
a lot of hockey left."
Islanders captain Michael Peca did not play after
sustaining a cut on his left leg when he was hit by Tom Poti's shot
Thursday. Peca is listed day to day. ... Sabres forward Ales
Kotalik did not play after he hurt his right shoulder in
Wednesday's 8-2 loss to New Jersey. Listed day to day, Kotalik is
expected to miss Saturday's game at Ottawa. ... Kvasha's goal was
the 13th of his career, matching a career high.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Arena: First Niagara Center Location: Buffalo, New York
Referees: Chris Lee Linesmen: Greg Devorski, Scott Driscoll