Every year as the Buffalo Sabres season winds down, the organization hosts a fan/family appreciation day – and for the past few seasons it’s been under circumstances where fans don’t have much to appreciate. Sabres nation yet again will be with out playoff hockey.
The Sabres, with little to play for, took on the New York Islanders Sunday at the KeyBank Center. The Islanders, however, are playing for their lives as their playoff hopes are starting to dwindle away.
The Sabres did welcome some fresh faces to the lineup, though. Ristolainen returned from a three-game suspension and Sam Reinhart from his one-game benching. Newly signed C.J. Smith also made his NHL debut.
Cal Clutterbuck opened the scoring in this game about halfway through the first period. The Islanders found themselves on a 3-on-2 into the Sabres’ zone, where Clutterbuck, coming down the right wing, wristed a shot past Robin Lehner, giving the Islanders the 1-0 lead.
The Sabres played a decent first period, but were doubled up on shots, 12-6. The Sabres top two lines manufactured most of the offensive zone time, especially the Jack Eichel line. Eichel, Reinhart, and Marcus Foligno had a handful of opportunities but were unable to capitalize.
The tide started to tilt in the Sabres favor right from the start of the second period. By halfway through the period, the Sabres had outshot the Islanders 10-0 and gotten on the board to tie the game at 1.
On a nice give-and-go play, C.J. Smith found Evander Kane with a nice pass for Kane’s 27th goal of the season and Smith’s first NHL point.
The game was tied only momentarily as Joshua Ho-Sang beat Lehner with a nifty move on a breakaway goal for his 4th goal of the year. That was the first shot of the period for the Islanders.
The Sabres did miss some glorious chances in the second period. Their power-play, who coming into today’s game was five for their last seven, struggled in the second period going 0-for-3.
The Sabres did manage to score another 5-on-5 goal early in the third period. Matt Moulson found Zemgus Girgensons, who was streaking towards the net and tipped the pass past Jaroslav Halak, netting his 7th goal of the season.
Right after the Sabres tying goal, the Islanders countered with back-to-back odd-man rushes. Lehner made some big saves while the defense did just enough to keep the puck out.
Anders Lee would not be stopped, tallying his 30th goal of the season, giving the Islanders their third lead of the game. Only a few minutes later, Lee scored again on an uncharacteristically bad giveaway from Jake McCabe, doubling the Islanders’ lead over the Sabres, 4-2.
And that would seal the deal for the Islanders. Without their captain and best player in John Tavares, the Islanders avoided elimination from the playoffs.
The Sabres play again Monday night at KeyBank Center against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fans may find this game of interest, not only because of the previously entertaining game against the Leafs, but because it appears Alex Nylander may get his first call-up with the team. This would set the stage for a showdown between the Nylander brothers, Alex and William.