The King Kong-sized monkey is finally off the Buffalo Sabres’ backs following their 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders inside Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, marking their first victory on the season after a brutal 0-6-1 start.
It required more than a measure of guts and persistence by Buffalo to grab the W. The Sabres found themselves trailing at three different points in the game, including when the clock was nearly at two minutes left in regulation. Zemgus Girgensons left the game late in the first period and didn’t return after he was struck in the head by a Tyler Myers slapshot. The Islanders’ last goal came about on a questionable power play; a circumstance that has haunted Buffalo more than once this year.
But the Sabres wouldn’t be scared stiff tonight. Seven different players collected a point and Ryan Miller was outstanding in net, fending off 41 of 44 shots thrown his way, as well as two pivotal stops in the shootout.
The Islanders claimed the first blow at 13:11 of the first period. New York center Frans Neilsen glided through the Buffalo zone and wired a perfect wrister past two Sabres and Miller to put the Islanders ahead.
Buffalo finally climbed to the scoreboard at 5:24 of the second period as Tyler Ennis netted his first goal of the year. Christian Ehrhoff first fired a hard shot from afar, which deflected off of Drew Stafford’s stick and landed underneath Islander’s goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Ennis charged in before the puck could be frozen, and poked it into the Islanders’ net to tie the game up.
As has often been the case early this year, the Sabres couldn’t hold the momentum for long. The Islanders scored their second on the night less than three minutes later, as left winger Matt Martin found himself alone in front of the Buffalo net to complete a pass from center Casey Cizikas, who had been holding the puck in the corner while drawing several Sabres to cover him.
The Sabres quickly evened score once again, at the same time scoring on their first power play in 11 attempts. As New York captain John Tavares sat in the penalty box for high-sticking, Thomas Vanek crossed the Islander net to catch a pass from Cody Hogdson. Vanek tipped the puck past Nabokov for his third goal on the year and the 253rd of his career, launching him past Sabres great Craig Ramsay for fifth most goals in franchise history.
Buffalo controlled much of the action from there, but their drive to take the lead ultimately came to a halt when Steve Ott was sent to the penalty box after a brief scrum with Tavares behind the Buffalo net. Despite that Tavares initiated the altercation by nearly throwing Ott to the ice while ripping his helmet off, the Sabres found themselves a man down. Buffalo’s penalty kill couldn’t hold up, and New York reclaimed the lead on a shot by Tavares that deflected off of left winger Matt Moulson and through Miller’s legs.
With just over two minutes left to play, Buffalo found a way to tie it up for the third time on the night. After securing a pass from Myers in between the circles, Marcus Foligno turned and hurled a shot at the net past which stormed through a crowd and past Nabokov to give Foligno his first goal of the season.
Both teams saw plentiful chances during the overtime sequence, but a shootout was needed to decide the spirited contest. The Islanders struck first on a shot by Moulson, and Buffalo came roaring back. Both Vanek and Ennis beat Nabokov on their chances, while Miller stifled Nielsen and Tavares to send Buffalo off the ice with the win.
The Sabres will come back home to Buffalo for a contest inside First Niagara Center Thursday night where they welcome the Vancouver Canucks. Although lineups have yet to be determined, it seems likely that it could be an Olympic rematch between 2012 Team Canada netminder Roberto Luongo and Team USA’s Miller. Puck drop is schedule for 7 p.m.