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 With: HKN--Islanders-DiPietro; HKN--Sabres-Gaustad.
AP Photos: NYDD101-103
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) -Goalie Rick DiPietro's potential return would certainly give the New York Islanders a much-need playoff boost.
An even bigger plus for the Islanders would be to stop sitting back if they intend to rebound from an Eastern Conference first-round series-opening loss to the top-seeded Buffalo Sabres.
``I don't think we were aggressive enough,'' forward Jason Blake said after practice Friday. ``You can't sit back and watch the Buffalo Sabres, the best team in the league ... skate around with the puck all day. We've got to play the way we played when we won hockey games.''
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday at Buffalo after the Sabres efficiently opened with a 4-1 win Thursday.
In out-shooting New York 35-21 with career minor-leaguer Wade Dubielewicz in goal for the Islanders, the Sabres dominated the flow, taking advantage of the tentative Islanders, who were far too intent in staying back to prevent odd-man rushes.
``We had one shot on net in the first period last night,'' Blake said. ``We've got to be a lot more aggressive.''
Perhaps DiPietro's return will help settle them.
The star goalie took part in a full practice for the first time in three weeks since sustaining two concussions during a 12-day span. DiPietro will be evaluated overnight to determine whether he'll play Saturday.
``Any time you get your most valuable player back, a guy who led you all season, it would be a big lift for us, that's for sure,'' coach Ted Nolan said.
Whether or not DiPietro plays, the Sabres are preparing to face a stiffer test from the Islanders.
``I think you're going to see more desperation,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
As for potentially facing DiPietro, Ruff said: ``I think it's a big addition and a big lift for the team. It fills the hope tank up again.''
Not that the Sabres intend to change their approach too much.
``The game-plan for goalies is usually the same,'' co-captain Chris Drury said. ``Just get a lot of shots, a lot of traffic.''
The Sabres did that in closing Game 1 with three straight goals, with Drury converting a rebound in front and then slapping in a one-timer; while Brian Campbell's game-ending goal came on a screen shot from the point.
The Sabres converted two of six power-play chances, while Drury's second goal came seconds after another power-play ended.
That's good news for a team that might have scored a league-leading 308 goals in the regular season, but was inconsistent on the man advantage. Buffalo closed the year converting just one of 18 power-play chances over its final six games.
``We had a good start, but we need to improve as well,'' Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. ``We have to worry about ourselves and the way we're going to play.''
DiPietro took the ice for practice with a wide smile on his face. He opened by making two big pad saves to foil Blake, who was parked at the doorstep, and then showed off his quick glove hand.
``I felt good. Any time you get to own Jason Blake like that in practice it's exciting,'' DiPietro said with a wink.
``I was just trying to give him his confidence back,'' Blake responded with a smile.
It's DiPietro who provides the Islanders confidence. He went 32-19-9, tying a single-season franchise record for wins, while adding five shutouts, quickly beginning to show why he was worthy of signing a 15-year contract last year.
``If you're a competitor, you want to play,'' DiPietro said. ``I realize how important these games are.''
If he can't play, the Islanders will continue with Dubielewicz, who helped the team win its final four games of the season and clinch the East's eighth and final playoff berth.
Maintaining their faith in Dubielewicz, the Isles still consider themselves a far better team with DiPietro.
``Is there confidence? Probably,'' Blake said. ``If he's in the net tomorrow night, he's definitely going to give us a boost.''
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