May The Force be with you as you enjoy Star Wars Day. (Sorry, had to do it).
The Islanders seemed to channel The Force in the first period of their 4-3 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night at KeyBank Center in Buffalo. The downstate Long Islanders put up an impressive 21-shots during the opening period and after 20-minutes of play, it was a 1-1 game.
It was even more impressive when you consider the Isles did that without Mathew Barzal, Matt Martin and Leo Komarov, all of whom were sat down for the evening as the team attempted to get its players some rest in advance of the playoffs. Unfortunately the defense ended up betraying them later in the game; which led to the loss.
You might ask how a team that won the shots battle 21-9 was merely tied after one period, but the answer is easy. Michael Houser, the 28-year-old rookie netminder who bested the Boys from Long Island on Monday night, was again up to the task early on Tuesday as he single-handedly kept his team in the game.
Not only did Houser keep his team in the game, he actually allowed the Sabres to get the early lead as his stout goaltending gave the Sabres the opportunity to go up ice in the final five-minutes of the period. Cody Eakin took a Jeff Skinner pass and buried it past Ilya Sorokin at the 15:59 mark of the game to put Buffalo up 1-0 and it really was the only true mistake the Isles made in the period as Skinner was able to create the play based off a turnover that was forced by Drake Caggiula.
However, it only took the Islanders 26-seconds to respond and even the game.
Josh Bailey drew in two Buffalo defenders and then swiftly passed the puck through the slot to Anthony Beauvillier, who one-timed it past Houser for the game-tying goal. 1-1.
That was it for the scoring in the opening period, although the Nassaumen did earn a power-play late, thanks to Victor Olofsson getting called for holding Michael Dal Colle’s stick. The power-play carried over into the second period for 36-seconds but they did not manage to convert.
A few short moments after the Isles’ power-play expired, Ross Johnston used his physicality to create a play behind the Sabres net and eventually the puck was sent out to the point where Ryan Pulock, who’s been snake-bitten all year in the goal-scoring department, fired a wicked-wrister through traffic that appeared to get deflected in front of the net and soared past Houser for the go-ahead goal. 2-1 Islanders.
The Isles tried to build momentum after going up 2-1 but were unable to beat Houser and then Jordan Eberle was called for a slashing penalty in his own zone, which ended up having a positive unintended result.
A simple, successful penalty-kill would have been welcome for the Boys from Long Island, who have been exceptionally strong when down a man this season. Instead, Buffalo’s Jacob Bryson fell down while trying to set up the Sabres power-play and Cal Clutterbuck took advantage of the situation.
Clutterbuck flew up ice short-handed and roofed the puck over Houser to put the Nassaumen up 3-1 at the 9:16 mark of the middle period. All in a night’s work for the long-time Islander.
The Sabres initially pushed back in the immediate shifts following Clutterbuck’s goal, but the Islanders stood tall for a few minutes and prevented Buffalo from drawing closer on the scoreboard. That is, until the Nassaumen were careless with the puck and turned it over several times in their own zone, which allowed Colin Miller to fire a shot towards Sorokin. Anders Bjork got a piece of the puck and deflected it past the Isles’ netminder to make it a 3-2 game.
Then it was on to the third period with the Isles leading by one.
The third period began with the Sabres controlling play as their momentum carried over from their late second period goal. The Isles D-corps was badly outworked throughout the third after being sporadically sloppy in periods one and two. That ended up proving costly for the Nassaumen as Bjork scored 10:56 into the third to erase the Islanders lead and tie the game at 3-3.
It was the second straight night the Boys from Long Island had blown a two-goal lead to the worst-in-the-NHL Sabres. And it continued a worrying trend that has been a staple of Islanders games over the past month (with the exception of games against the Rangers).
Unfortunately, the Islanders were unable to find the go-ahead goal in the third and were forced to play overtime, which hurts their chances to move up the standings as the all-important tie-breaker is regulation wins.
However, getting at least a point was crucial and the overtime period began with the Boys from Long Island trying to secure the highly important second point.
Both teams looked gassed in the overtime period having played the night before so there wasn’t much in the way of offensive chances and that meant the skills contest was needed to determine a winner.
In the shootout, the Isles went down quickly as they failed to score on a single chance, with Jordan Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier and Oliver Wahlstrom each coming up empty against Houser. On the other side of things, Sorokin allowed a second-round goal to Bjork, who else, and that proved to be the game-winner.
That was it for the Islanders as they essentially saw their opportunity to secure home-ice advantage in the playoffs evaporate before their very eyes. They went into Buffalo expecting to secure four-points and instead skated out with just a single point; all because the offense disappeared in game one and then the defense betrayed them in game two.
I guess The Force was corrupted by the Dark Side.
The Isles went 0-for-1 on the power-play to bring their season tally to 25-for-138…The Isles went 1-for-1 on the penalty-kill to bring their season tally to 107-for-128…The Isles rested Mathew Barzal, Matt Martin and Leo Komarov…J.G. Pageau, Michael Dal Colle and Ross Johnston tagged in for the resting trio, as did Travis Zajac…Barzal saw his consecutive games played streak of 274-games come to an end.
Thursday May 6th Islanders vs Devils at Nassau Coliseum at 7pm(EST).