Isles clinch at Buf­falo’s ex­pense

Lehner comes close to shutout

The Buffalo News - - NHL - By Mike Har­ring­ton

UNION­DALE – The New York Is­landers are go­ing to the Stan­ley Cup play­offs for the first time in three years. The Buf­falo Sabres con­tinue to count down to spring tee times for the eighth straight sea­son.

The Isles’ 5-1 dom­i­na­tion of Buf­falo Satur­day night in NYCB Live Nas­sau Coli­seum clinched at least an Eastern Con­fer­ence wild-card and kept them in the hunt for the Metropoli­tan Divi­sion ti­tle. New York is three points be­hind divi­sion-lead­ing Wash­ing­ton but four ahead of Pitts­burgh in the bat­tle for sec­ond place and home-ice ad­van­tage in the first round of the play­offs.

It’s heady stuff for a fran­chise picked to go nowhere this sea­son by vir­tu­ally ev­ery ex­pert in the wake of the free agent de­fec­tion of cap­tain John Tavares to Toronto. But un­der the tute­lage of coach Barry Trotz, the Is­landers have im­proved to 99 points.

A roar­ing, chant­ing sell­out crowd of 13,917 cre­ated an in­tense at­mos­phere in sup­port of its team in Buf­falo’s first game in the build­ing in nearly four years. An­thony Beauvil­lier scored two goals and for­mer Sabres goalie Robin Lehner notched his 24th win while com­ing within 6 1/2 min­utes of a shutout to lead the way for the Is­landers. The crowd stood and roared for the en­tire fi­nal minute to cel­e­brate the play­off berth.

The Sabres, mean­while, con­tinue to go nowhere. They’re 0-5-1 in their last six games, 1-11-2 in their last 14 and 3-16-3 in their last 22.

Buf­falo’s lone bright spot: Winger Vic­tor Olof­s­son got the Sabres on the score­board with his first NHL goal with 6:32 to play. It was a snap­shot from the right cir­cle af­ter a cross-ice pass from Jack Eichel.

Sorry start: The Sabres gave up 12 of the game’s first 13 shots on goal and fell be­hind, 1-0, on Jor­dan Eberle’s goal at 7:41 of the first pe­riod. Eberle took a Mathew Barzal re­bound and slid the puck un­der Carter Hut­ton.

Strug­gling sec­ond: Beauvil­lier, who was stopped on a first-pe­riod penalty shot by Hut­ton, got some re­venge in the sec­ond pe­riod with a goal at 8:20 on a Devon Toews feed. Michael Dal Colle out­fought Zem­gus Gir­gen­sons for a puck at the crease and poked it through Hut­ton to make it 3-0 with 33.5 sec­onds left in the pe­riod.

Wrap­ping it up: The Is­landers got a goal from de­fense­man Ryan Pu­lock 30 sec­onds into the third and Beauvil­lier’s sec­ond of the night on a tap-in at 6:07 of the third.

Road not taken: Benny Er­colani, the NHL’s long­time chief statis­ti­cian, has pro­vided clar­ity on the Sabres’ cur­rent road streaks to point out the club record for the long­est road los­ing streak is 12 games, set in 2011-12.

Since the ad­vent of over­time in 1983 and the shootout in 2005, the league dif­fer­en­ti­ates be­tween los­ing streaks and win­less streaks, just like it did when ties were played. Games de­cided in OT or shootouts are not listed un­der los­ing streaks be­cause the los­ing team gets a point. In­stead, they are part of win­less streaks.

The bot­tom line is this: Satur­day’s loss gives the Sabres a six-game road los­ing streak, dat­ing to their shootout loss March 7 in Chicago. But they’re on a 14-game road win­less streak (0-12-2) and have not won since Jan. 29 in Colum­bus. The fran­chise record in that cat­e­gory is 23 games (0-15-8), set from Oct. 30, 1971-Feb. 19, 1972.

An­other in­jury on de­fense: Marco Scan­della took a slap­shot to the right foot in the sec­ond pe­riod and did not re­turn. The Sabres were al­ready play­ing with­out Ras­mus Ris­to­lainen, Jake McCabe and Matt Hun­wick. McCabe took the morn­ing skate and thus might play Sun­day against Colum­bus.

Up next: Mer­ci­fully, there are only four games left in the sea­son. The Sabres flew home im­me­di­ately af­ter Satur­day’s con­test and will host the Blue Jack­ets Sun­day night at 6 in KeyBank Cen­ter.

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