Keith Aucoin’s third period goal forced overtime, earning a much-needed point in the standings, but the New York Islanders lost 2-1 in the shootout Friday on the road to the Buffalo Sabres in the last tuneup before the postseason.
Thomas Vanek scored the lone shootout goal to decide the match, giving the Sabres the victory. The result closes out the Islanders season at 24-17-7, and moves them into sixth place in the East, one point ahead of Ottawa and the New York Rangers. All three teams were tied with 54 points entering Friday, while the Senators and Rangers still have games remaining.
Head Coach Jack Capuano said that while the team’s energy was impressive toward the end, they needed a better effort in the first two periods.
“We didn’t generate much early,” Capuano said. “Give credit to [Buffalo]. But we found a way to get the point. We’ve done that all year long. We had some pretty good chances, and (Ryan) Miller made some saves for them. (Evgeni) Nabokov made some good saves for us too. It came down to power play and special teams tonight. We had opportunities and couldn’t capitalize.”
The game’s first goal didn’t come until three minutes into the second period. Thomas Vanek forced a turnover in the Islanders zone and passed the puck across the zone to Brian Flynn. The rookie stopped the puck and fired a shot from the right circle to beat Evgeni Nabokov low.
The Sabres led 1-0 after two periods, despite the Islanders going on a 5-on-3 power play for 53 seconds. The visitors finally tied the game in the third period. After an homerun pass from Andrew MacDonald went off the end boards in the Buffalo zone, Ryan Miller left his crease to play the puck, but retreated when he saw he was going to lose the footrace to Keith Aucoin. The Islanders’ center had just enough of an angle to get the puck around Miller from the left circle for his sixth tally of the season.
Aucoin, who had several scoring chances Thursday at Philadelphia but was unable to find the back of the net, said that his trio, including Michael Grabner and Colin McDonald, has generated a lot of momentum in recent games.
“We’ve been real good the last couple of weeks, getting a lot of chances, even though we haven’t really gotten any bounces,” Aucoin said. “We did tonight though. We’ve got good chemistry right now and we know where each other are on the ice.”
Cody Hodgson almost ended the contest in the final moments of regulation when he took a centering pass from Vanek, but pushed it just wide of the goal post. John Tavares fanned on a shot just before the horn, sending the Islanders to overtime for the third time in the last four games.
The Islanders out-shot Buffalo 5-1 in overtime, due in large part to a two-minute power play. But the Islanders were unable to score, finishing the evening 0-for-4 on the man advantage.
Buffalo went first in the shootout, and Vanek led off with a goal on his attempt. Nabokov stopped Drew Stafford and Jochen Hecht in the subsequent rounds, but neither Frans Nielsen, Brad Boyes nor Tavares were able to solve Miller at the other end.
Defenseman Travis Hamonic, who blocked a game-high six shots, said the team needs to bring a 60-minute effort to last in the postseason.
“I think the lesson to take away is we shouldn’t be sleeping for half the game,” Hamonic said. “We’ve got to come out with a better effort. This will be my first experience in the postseason, but we can’t come out and play like that for the first 35 minutes or so and expect a good outcome in the playoffs. We’ve got to be ready from the start.”
The Islanders are the first playoff team in the East to finish its regular season slate. All seven other teams have at least one game remaining, so the playoff picture is still full of variables. Seventh-place Ottawa plays at home against Philadelphia Saturday and at Boston Sunday. The eighth-place Rangers close the season Saturday at home against New Jersey. The Senators and Rangers both hold the tiebreakers over the Islanders.
Notes: The Islanders out-shot the Sabres 31-22 … The Islanders finished 0-for-4 on the power play, while Buffalo went 0-for-3 … Matt Carkner and John Scott were assessed fighting majors at 12:03 of the second period … Mark Streit led the Islanders in ice time with 26:38 … Kyle Okposo led the team with five shots on goal … The Islanders won 32-of-63 faceoffs … The Islanders out-hit the Sabres 23-15, led by Matt Martin’s five.
New York Islanders
60 Kevin Poulin
26 Thomas Vanek - 19 Cody Hodgson - 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott - 25 Mikhail Grigorenko - 55 Jochen Hecht
63 Tyler Ennis - 12 Kevin Porter - 65 Brian Flynn
82 Marcus Foligno - 42 Nathan Gerbe - 32 John Scott
10 Christian Ehrhoff - 44 Andrej Sekera
27 Adam Pardy - 53 Mark Pysyk
6 Mike Weber - 5 Chad Ruhwedel
30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth