Ted Nolan went with the hot hand over the all-star starter. The gamble didn't pay off.
Scott Gomez deflected a shot past Wade Dubielewicz, the usual backup to young star Rick DiPietro, early in the third period, and the New York Rangers earned a split of the home-and-home series with a 4-1 victory Thursday night.
The Rangers, who lost to the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday night, came out of the two-game series with three points out of four. They are 8-0-3 in their last 11.
"Not that we want to put ourselves in the situation where we're going into the third periods with one-goal leads, but it's certainly good practice," said Sean Avery, who scored twice. "It's good for us to have that in the back of our heads that we can go into the third and hold the lead."
Even though the Islanders lost, the decision by Nolan to start Dubielewicz over DiPietro couldn't be faulted since the goalie had little chance to prevent any of the goals.
DiPietro, in the second season of a 13-year contract, was away from the team for three days following the death of his grandmother. He returned to practice Wednesday, but Nolan already seemed to be leaning toward playing Dubielewicz because of the his solid performances against Florida and the Rangers in DiPietro's absence.
"He's a hot hand," Nolan said. "You can second-guess yourself, ifs, ands, buts and everything else. I mean, Dubielewicz has been playing well. Ricky's had three or four days off. It's kind of unfair to put him into a situation like this. Now, he's got two practices, and he'll run with it from here on in."
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Toronto 8 Boston 2, Montreal 4 Phoenix 2, Vancouver 6 Nashville 2, Los Angeles 2 Ottawa 0, Florida 5 Pittsburgh 2, Philadelphia 3 Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 3 Minnesota 2 and Colorado 1 Anaheim 0.
At Uniondale, N.Y., Brendan Shanahan scored a breakaway goal just 1:29 in during a delayed Islanders penalty, and Avery built the Rangers' lead to 2-0 later in the first period when he was left open in the slot.
"Two point-blank goals basically. You've got one guy that's scored 700 goals in this league just sitting by himself on the blue-line, and then another guy wide open on the back door," Islanders captain Bill Guerin said of Shanahan, who has scored 649 goals. "In games this big, that can't happen. It's just mental breakdowns. It killed us."
Gomez made it 3-1 when a shot by Marc Staal ricocheted in off him and Islanders defenceman Rob Davison at 1:12 of the third.
The Rangers jumped over Boston into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with the Bruins holding a game in hand.
The Islanders are on the outside of the playoff race, stuck in 11th place - five points and three spots below the post-season cutoff with only 13 games left.
"We're going to have to win a lot of those, and some people are going to have to lose," Guerin said. "Nobody is quitting. We're going to keep going and see where everything falls after 82 games."
DiPietro took the news that he wouldn't play in stride and watched the game from the far right corner of the bench, wearing a white Islanders baseball cap.
Dubielewicz finished with 24 saves, and was bailed out a few times when the Rangers found goal posts when shooting at an open net. His best stop came on Chris Drury, when he dived across the crease to make a stick save.
Avery sealed it with an empty-net goal with 57.8 seconds remaining.
"It would've been nice to be the hero, but what can you do?" Dubielewicz said. "You can't sit around and pout and worry about it now. I've got to regroup and start working hard and get ready if I'm going to get another chance to play."
Henrik Lundqvist bounced back from Tuesday's loss with a 26-save effort. His only blemish was Sean Bergenheim's second-period goal that caromed in off Rangers defenceman Marek Malik.
"I felt good the whole game and I felt like the guys were on their toes," Lundqvist said. "Every time there was a scramble in front, they cleared their guys and got the pucks."
Maple Leafs 8 Bruins 2
At Boston, Bryan McCabe had a goal and an assist during a four-goal second period to lead resurgent Toronto to a win over the Bruins.
Canadiens 4 Coyotes 2
At Glendale, Ariz., Saku Koivu, Andrei Markov and Sergei Kostitsyn scored third-period goals as Montreal rallied for a win.
Canucks 6 Predators 2
At Vancouver, the Canucks blitzed two Nashville goalies for four first-period goals, improving their chances of making the playoffs.
Kings 2 Senators 0
At Los Angeles, Erik Ersberg stopped 40 shots in his first NHL shutout and Alexander Frolov scored on a power play in the second period for the Kings.
Panthers 5 Penguins 2
At Sunrise, Fla., Craig Anderson stopped 25 shots and Florida beat Pittsburgh.
Flyers 3 Lightning 2
At Philadelphia, Jeff Carter scored his second goal with 1:54 left in the third period and the Flyers snapped a five-year home losing streak against Tampa Bay.
Hurricanes 3 Wild 2
At Raleigh, N.C., Matt Cullen had a goal and an assist to lead surging Carolina over Minnesota.
Avalanche 1 Ducks 0
At Denver, Jose Theodore stopped 27 shots for his second shutout of the season, Wojtek Wolski scored and Colorado won its fifth straight.