Isles Making Playoff Push a Reality
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Monday, February 19, 2007

Before the All-Star break, not many people expected the Islanders to contend for a playoff spot. Now just three and a half weeks later, the team finds themselves in a tie for the final playoff spot in the conference, as a result of a 6-3-1 record in their past ten games.

"I think we've come back a different team after the All-Star break," Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro told the associated press after the Islanders defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 on February 15. "Everyone got a chance to get away, get refreshed. We've come back with a better sense of confidence. I think guys realize what we have to do and the intensity we need to play at to be successful."

While DiPietro wouldn’t say it himself, Isles forward Mike Sillinger believes that the team’s charismatic and enigmatic goaltender has had a big hand in the team’s recent success.

"Ricky makes the big save when he has to, or a couple,” Sillinger told the Associated Press.

Despite struggling at stretches this season, DiPietro has been amazing during February after a miserable January, amassing a 4-1 record with a breathtaking GAA of 1.51 and an save percentage of .951. Silencing the critics who feel that the Winthrop, Massachusetts-native has some growing up to do before he can become a bona-fide superstar in the NHL, DiPietro has been the a huge factor in the teams success as of late.

"Ricky's goaltending has been sensational for a long time," said Nolan on the team’s official website. "It's almost something you take for granted, but we don't. We really appreciate what Ricky's been doing. He's been maturing and getting better on a daily basis."

Another factor in the recent success of the team has been the play of former first-round pick Jeff Tambellini, who was thrust onto the second line with Viktor Kozlov and Miroslav Satan and has been more than productive, despite only 26 games of NHL experience, prior to the call up. Showing maturity beyond his years, the 22-year old Tambellini knows how important the Isles current home stand is and understands what they need to do in order to win.

“You look at this home stand both as a seven-game group and one at a time. Not too many teams have this opportunity,” Islanders forward Jeff Tambellini said on the team’s official website and has six points in eight games since being called up from Bridgeport a few weeks ago. “We'll have to take advantage of all these games at home. It's tough playing on the road, so we need to pile up some points during this stretch.”

As far as the rest of the team goes, they too understand what it takes to make the playoffs in the NHL and are ready for the challenge.

“We're going in the right direction. That's starts with the first guy and ends with the last. It's really showing on the ice,” said Isles forward Richard Park on the team’s official website. “Everyone appreciates the situation our team is in and we're all trying to do whatever we can to help us win games. We've had some really good players going down with injuries and guys have stepped up. It's been fun to be part of this. Attitude isn't something you change over night, but there is a difference now. We go into every game expecting to win. We're becoming a more close-knit group as the season goes on.”