The Islanders picked up a point tonight, but it could have been so much more. The Isles watched a 3-1 lead evaporate in an eventual 4-3 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the Nassau Coliseum Saturday night. With a win, the Isles would have reached the .500 mark for the season for the first time since October 22. They also would have picked up an additional point in the race for the final playoff spot in the conference.
“I was hoping we would show up and play better after a win yesterday in Ottawa,” said a frustrated Frans Nielsen who scored twice and added an assist to pace the Isles attack. “We just can’t sit back when we have a lead, we have to keep playing.”
This was a sloppy game by both teams but it had its ebbs and flows. The Islanders drew first blood just 1:39 into the game when Michael Grabner got possession of the puck off a defensive zone turnover by Buffalo’s Mike Weber. Grabner found Nielsen in front and the Isles quickly had a 1-0 lead.
The Isles quickly returned the favor as a turnover in their defensive zone set up the tying goal by Nathan Gerbe less than four minutes later. Gerbe’s shot deflected into the net off the shoulder of Isles goalie Al Montoya at 5:32.
The Islanders got the lead back with exactly four minutes left in the opening stanza exactly as a Sabres power play expired. Nielsen set up Josh Bailey on a shorthanded breakaway. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller made a skate save on the initial shot but Bailey pounced on his own rebound and beat Miller from in close to make it 2-1 Isles. Although this was initially ruled a shorthanded goal, it was later determined to be at even strength.
Nielsen tallied again just 1:17 later from the right circle and the Islanders had a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes despite being outshot 17-9.
“We had the lead but we didn’t play a great game,” admitted Isles captain Mark Streit.
Both clubs looked disorganized in the second period but Miller stabilized his play after allowing three goals on the first eight shots he faced and the Sabres began to chip away at the Islanders lead.
Montoya was able to keep Buffalo off the board until Derek Roy broke through with just 1:19 left in the second period. Roy took the puck just inside the Islanders blue line and had room to skate in before letting his shot go. Jason Pominville was in front to screen Montoya.
The late second period goal gave Buffalo some additional momentum heading into the third period and they had periods of sustained pressure in the Islanders zone. Paul Gaustad finally got the tying goal at 11:46 of the third off a pass by Tyler Myers.
The Islanders had a chance to win it in overtime when the Sabres were called for too many men on the ice after they made an early change to prevent an odd-man rush by the Islanders. The Isles power play held the puck in the Buffalo zone for most of the 2:00 advantage but could not score the game winner.
“Miller made some big saves,” forward P.A. Parenteau said when asked about the overtime power play. “Streiter [Mark Streit] was shooting everything and Moulson had a few rebounds but we couldn’t put them home.”
“We had some looks…We’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano added. “This isn’t the first time in overtime that we haven’t scored to get the two points.”
The game went to a shootout where both Brad Boyes and Pominville scored for Buffalo while Miller stopped Parenteau while Nielsen missed the net with his patented backhand move.
The win gave Miller 235 career victories, the most by a goaltender in Sabres history. He had previously shared the mark with Dominick Hasek.
Even with the overtime loss, the Isles are 5-1-2 in their last eight and they feel good about their chances to get back into the playoff chase.
“We’ve played some pretty good hockey lately,” Parenteau explained. “The guys are feeling it and we’ve gotten some good goaltending so I feel confident in our chances.”
The Islanders return to action Tuesday when they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers. The Sabres next game isn’t until Wednesday night when they host the Boston Bruins.
Defenseman Travis Hamonic was injured early in the third period after taking a deflected shot to the face. He was taken to a local hospital for observation and did not return.
The Isles scratched Milan Jurcina and Brian Rolston.