The New York Islanders fell to the Buffalo Sabres in overtime 4-3 Saturday night at the Barclays Center in a game filled with firsts for various younger players. Alan Quine and Scott Mayfield each scored their first career NHL goals in the game. The Isles now have 100 points for the season, the second straight year they’ve reached that milestone.
The Islanders opening-round playoff opponent is still unknown. If the Islanders beat the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow night in the season finale at Barclays, they will pass the Rangers and finish third in the Metropolitan Division and open the postseason in Pittsburgh. If the Islanders lose to the Flyers, they will be the first Eastern Conference wild card and face the Florida Panthers in the playoffs.
With a playoff berth already clinched, the Islanders concentrated on resting some players who were a little banged up in advance of the playoffs. The Isles scratched Thomas Hickey, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Marek Zidlicky, Mikhail Grabovski and Brian Strait and are still without injured players like Travis Hamonic, Anders Lee, Jaroslav Halak, J.F. Berube and Nikolay Kulemin.
The Isles called up Quine and Bracken Kearns from Bridgeport to play tonight while defenseman Adam Pelech made his first NHL appearance since January 14th after returning from an injury.
After a scoreless and uneven first period, the Islanders took the lead at 2:03 of the second period on a shot from the point by Mayfield that trickled past Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark.
“It’s nice,” Mayfield said when asked about his first NHL goal. “I don’t think I had a chance to celebrate because I didn’t know it went in right away, it just kind of trickled in. I wasn’t even sure if I got it. At the same time, it’s nice to get it either way. You’re playing street hockey as a kid and you count down the clock and say you scored in the NHL and now I can say that.”
Former Isles forward Matt Moulson tied the game 1-1 just three minutes later off a pinpoint pass by rookie Jack Eichel. Rookie Evan Rodrigues scored his first NHL goal with 2:03 left in the middle stanza to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
The Islanders evened the score on a shorthanded goal by Quine, a 23-year-old rookie playing in his first NHL game. Ullmark tried to clear the puck but Kearns intercepted it and found Quine who deflected the puck home.
“It’s something you always dream about and is a surreal experience that I’ll never forget,” Quine said. “I think about how hard it’s been to get there and take advantage of it…I think it was halfway between the goalie playing it and not. Luckily, Kearns got in there and threw one over a few guys and I was right there in the crease and it went off me and in.”
Veteran Brian Gionta gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead at 5:57 of the third period but John Tavares tallied his 33rd goal of the season with 6:26 left in regulation to force overtime.
Gionta scored again 2:45 into the extra session to give the Sabres a win in their final game of the season.
Head coach Jack Capuano said the Islanders will take a look at their lineup in the season finale tomorrow night and do what’s best for the team as they prepare for the playoffs.
“Tomorrow, we are really going to have to re-evaluate and look at what we are going to do with some of those guys…We are not laying down by any means. We’re playing…but we are going to have to look at some things. It’s tough to keep guys out of the lineup, they want to play. Five games in seven nights, guys are a little dinged up and we have to do what is right for our hockey club moving forward.”
Tomorrow night’s game is a makeup from a contest that was snowed out back in January. Faceoff is 7:00 pm.
Official attendance was 14,811.
The Isles are celebrating Fan Appreciation Weekend during these final two games.
The 33 goals are the second-best total of Tavares’ career. His career best came last season when he had 38. The captain now has scored in four straight games.