Contemplating Playoff Hopes, Isles Need to Put It Together
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Saturday, March 17, 2007

Two weeks after acquiring Ryan Smyth and Richard Zednik in an effort to guarantee the team a playoff spot, the New York Islanders have been forced to deal with both injuries on the ice and drama off of it.

Having starting goaltender Rick DiPietro go down with a neck injury, while still feeling the effects of Chris Simonís 25-game suspension last week for his vicious stick-swinging attack on Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg, the Islanders have been forced to reevaluate their team and their hopes for playoff contention during this pivotal last stretch of the season.

Injuring his neck in a blue-line collision with Canadiens forward Steve Begin, DiPietro hasnít played since and is currently listed as day to day, prompting the Isles to call up two-time AHL All-Star, Wade Dubielewicz from their AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on an emergency basis to backup Mike Dunham in net.

"We'll evaluate one more day and see what happens," Islanders head coach Ted Nolan told the Ottawa Citizen after the injury took place on Tuesday. "You're always concerned when your top athletes go down, but he's under good medical care right now."

Not only does DiPietroís injury hurt the Islanders, who are in the midst of a playoff rush, it also hurts their minor league affiliate, whoís battling for a playoff spot as well. Acknowledging how much DiPietro means to the team, the Islanders know they have to start stepping up their collective game.

"He's a big piece of the puzzle and we already lost Chris [Simon], who brought us a lot of physical play," Islanders defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron told the Associated Press. "Now that we've lost him, hopefully we're not going to lose Rick for a number of games."

However, even before DiPietroís injury, the team was starting to cool off, going 2-1-2 after going 9-2-2 in February. Now 0-2 since the former first-round pick went down, the Islanders understand that a few more losses may take them out of playoff contention and know that they need to put a string of wins together to guarantee themselves a spot in the postseason.

"It was unacceptable," forward Ryan Smyth told the Associated Press after New York was beaten by the Senators 5-2 on Thursday night, the teamís fourth loss in five games. "We're in a playoff race and we've got to find a way to step up our game or we're going to be on the outside looking in."

With only a dozen games left and the team still holding on to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders still control their own destiny. However, with all of their games remaining being against conference opponents, the Isles will have to show the rest of the league just how badly they want to make the playoffs this season, or will find themselves watching playoff action on their television sets for the second year in the row.