New York Islanders Close the Regular Season With a Whimper

 

Buffalo, NY -- the New York Islanders fell to the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center Friday night in a shootout after getting a late goal to tie the game in the third period. From the opening faceoff, the Isles lacked the energy to compete with a Sabres team bent on playing spoiler.

Despite the loss, the Isles moved up from eighth to sixth in the Eastern Conference, pending the results of the final game for the New York Rangers and the final two games for the Ottawa Senators.

The Islanders (24-17-7, 55 points) can finish the regular season as the conference’s 6th-, 7th- or 8th-seed. With zero games remaining, however, the team no longer controls its own fate.

Isles fans will be relegated to watching the scoreboard this weekend as they keep their fingers crossed for losses by the Rangers and Senators, which would allow the Islanders to retain their current position.

Matchups with the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins are all in play at this point.

As for tonight’s game, the Islanders exhibited more symptoms of a playoff-berth-clinching hangover against a team that was already eliminated from postseason contention. It was to be expected; after all, the Isles players are only human.

That’s no consolation for their fans, which saw a listless first period from New York that carried over into the second.

One of the few bright spots for the Islanders was the play of their much-heralded second line. Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo were again the line to provide the best chances for the team throughout the first and second periods.

Not even the efforts of Bailey, Nielsen and Okposo could prevent Buffalo from taking advantage of the Islanders’ sleepy defensive effort. Brian Flynn was able to gain the zone, take a pass from Thomas Vanek and beat goaltender Evgeni Nabokov with a snap shot at 3:27 of the second period, putting the Sabres up 1-0.

The Isles would generate some chances during the second frame, but wouldn’t find their legs until the third period.

Relentless fore-checking by the second and third lines lead to Sabres goalie Ryan Miller misplaying a puck off the end boards behind his net. Keith Aucoin pounced on Miller’s miscue and netted what would be the Islanders’ only goal of the night, tying the game 1-1 at 7:26 of the period.

The Islanders had several chances in the overtime period, including a power play that saw several good shots by the team, none of which found the back of the net. John Tavares came close to winning the game for his team, weaving through three Sabres players and whistling a shot over Miller’s shoulder – and the net.

The shootout was no kinder to the Isles, as all three shooters – Nielsen, Brad Boyes and Tavares – were stopped by Miller in what was likely his last game in a Sabres uniform.

On the night when he was honored with Buffalo’s team MVP award, Miller was a major factor in the victory, stopping 30-of-31 shots.

The Isles will need to regroup over the weekend and mentally prepare for the playoffs. The type of effort shown over the past three games won’t cut it in the postseason; hopefully the intensity of a playoff series will return the Isles to their winning ways.

The “Drive for Five” starts next week. Prepare yourselves, Isles fans.

 

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