Mike York, Trent Hunter and Chris Simon scored in a 1:46 span of the second period, then York got the deciding goal in the shootout as Dunham outlasted Anaheim Ducks counterpart Jean-Sebastien Giguere for a 5-4 victory on Wednesday night.
"Mike had some pretty good shooters going against him and he did well," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said after Dunham turned back Chris Pronger, Andy McDonald, Teemu Selanne, Chris Kunitz and Rob Niedermayer in succession. "As far as his positioning and blocking of shots, he didn't get himself in any trouble and gave us a great opportunity to win the game."
The 34-year-old Dunham won the backup position in training camp as a non-roster invitee after spending last season with Atlanta. The job opened when Garth Snow was promoted to general manager following the sudden firing of Neil Smith, who spent less than six weeks as GM.
"There weren't that many spots out there," Dunham said. "There were a couple of teams we talked to, but I've known Rick for a long time, and Shawn Bates - and obviously I've known Garth. So I just thought it would be fun to go back East, where I'm from. They offered me a tryout coming into camp, and fortunately things worked out."
Alexei Yashin scored the tying goal with 3:43 left in regulation for the Islanders, who had opened the season with three straight losses for the first time in the franchise's 35-year history. They won despite getting outshot 50-24.
Samuel Pahlsson scored his first two goals of the season, Corey Perry also scored and Pronger had a goal and an assist for the Ducks, who had their first 3-0 start since the NHL expanded to Anaheim for the 1993-94 season.
Dunham, making his first start in goal for the Islanders, made 46 saves. Rick DiPietro, who signed a 15-year, US$67.5 million contract last month, took the loss in New York's first three games.
"I felt relaxed out there," Dunham said. "I certainly saw a lot of shots early and got into the flow of the game. I think that helped out a lot."
The Ducks outshot the Islanders 17-5, but had to settle for a 1-0 lead because of Dunham's acrobatics.
"We came out and dominated that first period, and we had a ton of scoring chances," Pronger said. "They came out a lot better in the second period and we didn't have the same intensity and speed that we had in the first. But we battled hard to come back and take the lead and showed a lot of fortitude."
The Ducks made quick work of the Islanders' penalty-killing unit twice in the third period to grab a 4-3 lead. Pronger converted Kunitz's pass from behind the net just 5 seconds after Brendan Witt was penalized for cross-checking. Perry connected on a rebound at the edge of the crease just 6 seconds after Sean Hill was sent off for tripping.
"You don't want to do that with a 3-2 lead, but that's part of the new NHL and you have to try to kill penalties better," Dunham said. "But at the same time, you have to limit the power plays because that's where teams get a lot of momentum and get a lot of their shots. They have a good power play and they move the puck well, but we found a way to win."
Giguere, playing in his 300th regular-season game and coming off a shutout of St. Louis on Monday night, surrendered three goals on four shots as the Islanders grabbed a 3-1 lead at 5:28 of the second.
York converted Arron Asham's pass form behind the net, beating Giguere to the stick side after a turnover deep in the Anaheim zone. The Islanders pulled ahead 43 seconds later when Hunter threw a lazy wrist shot at the net through a screen from the right point and the puck got through a maze of players before eluding Giguere's glove. Simon gave the Islanders a two-goal lead 63 seconds later on a power play.
Notes: Dunham is the sixth player to have played for the Islanders, Rangers and Devils, and the second goaltender to do it - along with John Vanbiesbrouck. ... The victory was the first for Nolan in the NHL since the 1996-97 campaign, when he was named coach of the year in just his second season in the league.