SABRES 2, ISLANDERS 1 (SO) — Tough End to the Regular Season, But Playoffs Await

Screen shot 2013-04-26 at 10.35.44 PM
PreviewBox ScoreTOIHighlightsislesbar

In what was a lackluster effort, the Islanders finished the shortened season with 55 points and a 2-1 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres. That is good enough to move them back into sixth but only for the time being. The Rangers play the Devils tomorrow at 3pm and the Senators have two games remaining. Unless both teams lose the rest of their games in regulation, the Islanders will fall back to the eighth seed and get a first round date with the Penguins. If the Rangers lose in regulation to the Devils tomorrow, the Islanders could still finish seventh and play the Northeast winner.

While they did finish the season with two frustrating games, they still had a hell of an April, going 8-1-4, and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. There’s no reason to jump off the ledge after these two games, although they certainly could have finished better.

There isn’t much to write about the first period. Neither team had very many opportunities. Matt Moulson did have a good chance on a man advantage, but missed and we ended the period scoreless. At the buzzer, John Scott and Eric Boulton drew matching 10-minute misconducts. Hopefully Boulton will take a seat back in the press box for the playoffs; he hasn’t helped much in the two games he’s played this week.

The Sabres would get on the board first, with Bryan Flynn scoring his sixth of the season. Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek found the puck in the Isles faceoff circle after a turnover, centered to a streaking Flynn who beat Evgeni Nabokov with a slapper.

Later on in the second, Tyler Ennis showed some frustration and was out of line in his retaliation on Thomas Hickey. Hickey laid out Ennis at the Islanders blueline with a solid should hit. Ennis would chase Hickey down the ice, smack him in the face with his stick and then literally tackle him to the ice. Ennis and Drew Stafford each earned a roughing penalty for their efforts, but it’s a joke that it wasn’t more, considering the open-ice tackle and blood coming from Hickey’s face. Blood on a high-sticking penalty is a 4-minute minor but, uh, not in this case. Or something.

For their part, the Islanders would fail to score on the ensuing 5-on-3. In fact, they didn’t look great on the power play for much of the night. They ended the night 0-for-4 on the man advantage with only five shots.

In the third, the Islanders did even the score on a wacky goal from Keith Aucoin. Andrew MacDonald tried a long breakout pass from his own goal line, it deflected into the Sabres zone and came off the back wall. Ryan Miller decided for a second to try to come out and play the puck off the wall, but Aucoin was first to the puck and knocked it past Miller, who looked like he was doing his best humpty dance.

The game would head to overtime, and neither team would break through in the final minutes of the third or the extra five minutes. The Islanders did wake up, press, and have their chances. Michael Grabner was stopped by Miller on a breakaway and the Islanders had a power play in overtime but weren’t able to cash in. At the end of the extra frame, John Tavares was clearly frustrated. Tavares had an excellent chance in overtime, weaving through three Sabre defenders for an open shot on Miller from point blank, but to no avail. In the shootout, the Islanders (Nielsen, Boyes then Tavares) couldn’t break through. Buffalo’s first shooter, Thomas Vanek, scored and that’s all Buffalo needed to earn the win.

The Islanders are now off until at least Tuesday, waiting to find out who their first round opponent will be. According to Sports Club Stats, the Islanders have a 3% chance of finishing 6th, which only happens if the Sens and Rangers those their three combined games in regulation. There’s a 33% chance they end up in seventh (one of those teams losing the rest of their games in regulation) and 64% chance they end up in eighth. An eighth place finish is a date with the Penguins, while seventh could be Boston or Montreal, depending on how their final games shake out.