Isles clinch at Buffalo’s expense
Lehner comes close to shutout
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.