Rick DiPietro is optimistic about being healthy in 2010-11

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for josecanseco.jpgIn some ways, Rick DiPietro is hockey’s answer to Jose Canseco (in the photo to the right).

Like Canseco, DiPietro (and the New York Islanders) made a decision that was both very public and widely lampooned. Canseco elicited eye-rolls and mockery for blowing the whistle on steroid use in baseball, but now his book seems prescient and the sometimes-oafish former Major Leaguer might qualify a trailblazer. DiPietro and the Islanders produced guffaws from writers, fans and bloggers alike when they signed that 15-year, $67.5 million deal. Yet before the league finally put its foot down with the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, how many NHL teams followed suit with risky “lifetime” contracts?

The crucial difference, though, is that DiPietro hasn’t exactly been able to prove critics wrong. (OK, he also never let a homerun bounce off his noggin, but let’s move on.) Rather than giving him a “F” grade, I’d be more inclined to give him an “Incomplete” since knee problems kept him from honoring his commitment. In the last two seasons, he only played in 13 games.

Thumbnail image for rickydsmiling.jpgThe New York Post caught up with DiPietro, who seems optimistic about being healthy for the first time since the 2007-08 season (oddly enough, the last time the Islanders enjoyed moderate success).

Since signing his 15-year, $67.5 million contract in 2006, the polarizing netminder has been plagued by injuries and played in a total of 138 games in four years, 13 in the past two. Since the 2007-08 season, the Islanders haven’t won more than 35 games and have finished last in the Atlantic Division each season.

“It’s been a little out of the ordinary the last couple of years,” said DiPietro, who is coming back from two different surgeries on his left knee and a handful of setbacks that were the result of trying to come back too soon. “I’ve played through different kind of injuries and everything else, but it’s good to start to feel a little bit more normal and get back to my routine.”

While using most of the summer to rest his body rather than being forced to rehab, DiPietro has been skating recently and is in fine spirits about the upcoming year.

“Physically I feel great,” he said. “I’m working my way [back]. I don’t think anyone’s at 100 percent yet, we’ve got to get through camp. Each day, it [the knee] is getting stronger and stronger and we’re moving in the right direction.”

It’s natural to read the “I’m feeling so much better” type injury rehab stories with a healthy amount of skepticism, but the one thing going for DiPietro is that a lot of athletes see marked improvement the second year after knee surgery.

Say what you will about DiPietro, the Islanders really struggled since the beleaguered goalie went down with injury issues. Let’s not forget that he helped the team scrap to a few playoff berths, even if it was often on an eighth seed level. The Atlantic division isn’t as soft as it once was, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers joining the New Jersey Devils as regular winners. Yet if DiPietro bounces back and is near 100 percent, the team might at least be able to make a run at the playoffs.

Even if it’s pretty difficult to imagine that scenario right now.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.