Backup Goaltender Shootout Heroics Leads Islanders To Playoffs
By Brian Bohl
Wade Dubielewicz kept his eyes locked on Sergei Brylin's stick blade. He waited until the New Jersey Devils centerman nearly entered the crease before extending his right arm, poke-checking the puck harmlessly into the corner in the final round of the shootout.
New York Islander fans can now label this "Easter Epic II." Dubielewicz's save secured the Islanders first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2003-04, backstopping a 3-2 victory over the Devils at Continental Airlines Arena.
Miroslav Satan opened the one-one-one session by beating Scott Clemmensen stick-side, and former Devil Viktor Kozlov punished his former team by netting the game-winner in the second round after Zach Parise tied it. The win marked the conclusion of a hectic stretch run that featured the Islanders in tenth place after losing to the Senators March 31. Since that time, Dubielewicz went from minor league goalie to NHL hero, leading the Isles to a 4-0 finish when a loss in any of the four contests would have meant elimination from postseason contention.
Instead, the win yesterday gave the Isles 92 points and the Eastern Conference's eighth and final seed while also eliminating the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They will now face the Buffalo Sabres in the first-round, and that series started yesterday at HSBC Arena. Coach Ted Nolan will be facing the franchise that gave him his first head coaching job before unceremoniously firing him in 1997.
Before the first-year Islanders coach looks ahead to that matchup, Nolan said he was just savoring the moment.
"I don't think I was breathing in overtime and the shootout," Nolan said. "It seemed like time stood still. It's very gratifying."
Much like the first "Easter Epic" 20 years ago, when Pat LaFontaine won a four-overtime Game 7 semifinal game against the Capitals, the Islanders needed to go beyond regulation to pull out a dramatic victory. For the first 55 minutes, it appeared overtime was not needed. Fourth-line winger Richard Park continued his hot streak, scoring both goals to build up a 2-0 lead after the Devils chose to rest Martin Brodeur in the regular season finale.
Dubielewicz, who took over the starting job for the injured Rick DiPietro, made that lead standup until John Madden finally supported Clemmensen with the Devils first goal with 4:13 remaining. The Isles appeared to minimize the damage until a frantic scramble in the waning moments led to Madden's second goal with nine-tenths of a second showing on the clock. It was a demoralizing goal that nearly erased an entire season's worth of work just to get to the playoffs.
Nolan chose Satan to open the shootout, and the former Sabre responded by providing Dubielewicz some early breathing room. Parise quickly erased that cushion, leaving it up to Kozlov. The Russian, who played for the Devils last year before coming to New York on a free-agent deal right before training camp, stuck it to his old team.
Dubielewicz, called up from the minors March 27, stopped Brian Gionta and Brylin, setting off a massive celebration on the Islanders bench in the most consequently shootout in its two-year history. The Devils won the previous six games in the series after losing the first one, but it came down to game No. 82 in perhaps the most consequently shootout since the O.K. Corral.
"When the chance came, I wanted to make the most out of it," said Dubielewicz, who finished 22 saves and compiled a 4-1 record since taking over for Mike Dunham. "I hope this is the start of something special. Who knows? It will be an interesting playoff and an interesting summer."
The victory capped a whirlwind week for the Islanders, especially Dubielewicz. Montreal cooperated by losing their final two games, finally getting pushed out after losing 6-5 to the Maple Leafs Saturday night. Toronto could have wrapped up the eighth spot, though, if Dubielewicz failed to make up for DiPietro's absence due to post-concussion symptoms.
Dubielewicz beat the Rangers by stopping Jaromir Jagr during a shootout win at home Tuesday before fending off the Maple Leafs two nights later in the home finale. The former University of Denver star posted back-to-back wins over the Flyers and Devils this weekend, putting him alongside Glenn Resch as the most popular backup in team history.
"We got a lot of veteran guys in this room, a lot of team leaders," assistant captain Mike Sillinger said. "A lot of guys dug deep and we just took it game by game. It just goes to show the character we have in this room. That's the reason we had so much success all year. "Everyone contributes."