The New York Islanders are one step closer to clinching a playoff berth, after downing the Buffalo Sabres 3-0 Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Jaroslav Halak made 21 saves for his sixth shutout of the season, as the Islanders picked up their 46th win and 98th point, the most in a single season since 1983-84. Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson and Nikolay Kulemin scored in the win, as the Islanders picked up points in their third straight game (2-0-1).
“It was the first time in a little while that we got back to playing mobile and grinding it out,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We were skating. We had legs and we were dynamic in the offensive zone. They played extremely hard and when it was a tight game, Jaro made a couple of big saves to keep it 1-0.”
Seizing two points from the last-placed Sabres was essential for the Islanders to compete for home-ice advantage in the postseason. The home team came out of the gate swinging, peppering the Sabres in the early goings and turning a possession-heavy five minutes into a power-play goal. Anders Lee set the screen, allowing Okposo to beat rookie goalie Andrey Makarov with a skipping wrister that hit a defenseman on its way in.
“It was a good team game, we did a lot of things right,” Okposo said. “We didn’t give them a whole lot of opportunities. We just kept coming at them and kept coming at them and played well in the offensive zone. We trusted the goals were going to come and they did.”
The Islanders dictated the pace of the game, but aside from Okposo’s 17th, the rest of the first period and the second were largely uneventful. The most noteworthy sequence came at the end of the middle frame, as the Islanders killed off a four-minute penalty, protecting a 1-0 lead.
“It was a big point in the game,” said John Tavares, who picked up an assist on Okposo’s goal. “They certainly did a heck of a job, the penalty killers and Jaro. There were a lot of blocked shots and it takes a lot of guts. Guys stepped up.”
The Islanders opened up the game in the third period, as Nelson and Kulemin buried goals 3:41 apart. Nelson put the Islanders up 2-0 midway through the third off a friendly bounce. Zach Bogosian’s clearing attempt hit Frans Nielsen’s discarded stick – it was knocked out of his hands on a preceding shift – in the Sabres zone and caromed to Nelson in the slot. Nelson skated in and beat Makarov five-hole at 9:32.
Kulemin celebrated his 500th career NHL game with a goal just under four minutes later, redirecting a Travis Hamonic drive past Makarov. Kulemin’s 14th effectively put the game out of reach.
The Islanders next game is on Tuesday night in Philadelphia, where they’ll have a chance to reach 100 points.
“We know it’s really close,” Tavares said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good spot. We’ll just get ready for Philadelphia on Tuesday. We just want to keep playing well down the stretch and we know the standings are tight, so we’ll just keep playing hard.”
Puck drop is at 7 p.m.