Islanders aim to clinch playoff berth vs. visiting Sabres
The New York Islanders needed just 33 seconds Thursday night to remove the desperation from Saturday night's penultimate home game and turn it into an opportunity to celebrate.
The Islanders will look to cap one of the biggest surprise stories of the NHL season Saturday night, when they try to clinch a playoff berth against the visiting Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
Both teams were off Friday following chaotic games Thursday. The Islanders came back from a pair of two-goal deficits before Casey Cizikas tied the game with 1:46 remaining and Jordan Eberle scored the winning goal with 1:13 to go in a 5-4 win over the host Winnipeg Jets. The Sabres also overcame a pair of two-goal deficits against the visiting Detroit Red Wings but could not get the go-ahead score and fell in overtime by the same 5-4 score.
The dramatic win by the Islanders (45-26-7) turned their playoff picture upside down. With a loss -- which would have been its fourth in six games -- New York would have remained in third place in the Metropolitan Division by virtue of losing a tiebreaker to the Pittsburgh Penguins and fallen five points behind the first-place Washington Capitals.
Instead, the Islanders will now enter Saturday in sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan with a chance to lock up at least a wild-card berth with a win. New York missed the playoffs by 17 points last season before losing captain John Tavares, who joined the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent.
In addition, the Islanders, who haven't won a division title since the 1987-88 campaign, are three points behind the Capitals, who face the Presidents Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night.
No wonder Islanders goalie Robin Lehner responded to Thursday's final horn with an emphatic fist pump before embracing Cizikas, Anders Lee and Nick Leddy.
"Wow. Wow," Lehner said. "This was absolutely incredible. I know nothing is done yet, but we really needed this one. (The Jets are) such a great hockey team over there. They were dangerous all night. We scrambled together, we didn't give up. Yeah, it's one of the most fun wins in a long, long time. So proud of this group, man. This is a huge game for us."
If recent history is any indication, the reeling Sabres (31-36-10) are the perfect candidate for the Islanders to face with a playoff berth at stake. Buffalo has lost five straight (0-4-1) and 12 of 13 (1-10-2).
The Sabres have not won back-to-back games since Dec. 11-13, a span in which they've gone 12-27-6. That's the only win streak Buffalo has enjoyed since tying a franchise record by winning 10 in a row from Nov. 8 through Nov. 27.
With only five players on the roster older than 29, the Sabres are left to hope the difficult finish to a once-promising season will lay a foundation that can yield dividends in the coming years.
"It's good to have young guys around, because they have short memories," Sabres head coach Phil Housley said following Thursday's loss. "They want to make a difference. All their intentions are in the right place, they're good people, they're good teammates and they're trying their hearts out."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 29, 2019