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Buffalo Sabres 4, New York Islanders 3 (OT): Playoff opponent left to final day

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Tomorrow is not as meaningless as you'd hoped.

The Boulton in his natural habitat.
The Boulton in his natural habitat.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Three rookies scored their first NHL goals and three standings points were awarded as the New York Islanders lost in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres, 4-3, while keeping their playoff opponent up in the air.

The regulation point earned in the loss means the Islanders can still jump back into third place in the Metropolitan Division, and a first-round rematch with the Pittsburgh Penguins, with a win of any kind on Sunday. Anything short of a win in that one against the Philadelphia Flyers would mean the Isles would remain in the wild card and face the Florida Panthers in the first round.

After a scoreless first period, rookie Scott Mayfield scored his first NHL goal early in the second period on a shot from the point that trickled over the line. Casey Cizikas showed impressive awareness in resisting the natural instinct to swat it and make sure it crossed the line. Cizikas immediately picked up the puck as a souvenir.

But Mayfield's goal didn't hold up long. Ex-Isle Matt Moulson scored three minutes later, and the Isles would trail twice before forcing overtime and keeping their chances for third place alive. Which either pleases you, devastates you, or reminds you that there are more significant things in this world to get emotional about.

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Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues and Islanders forward Alan Quine also scored their first NHL goals, with Quine's being particularly story-worthy, and destined to evolve over the years into "well, I deked Domink Hasek" once he has grandkids to tell.

Rodrigues made it 2-1 for the Sabres late in the second period, but Quine answered shorthanded in the opening minutes of the third period after an alert sprint by Bracken Kearns to catch Linus Ullmark out of the net and feed Quine in front of the net. The puck went into the empty net off of Quine's knee, and both forwards -- called up from AHL Bridgeport early in the day -- jumped for joy at the milestone.

But Brian Gionta regained the lead for Buffalo four minutes later, which pleased any Isles fans hoping to see the Panthers. John Tavares tied it at 13:34 with some nifty dexterity on a rebound, and muted his celebration as if he too wants to visit Florida next week.

So if the Isles pick up two points on Sunday, may all of the pro-Panthers (or Pens-ophobes?) direct their rage at the Islanders captain for having the nerve to keep playing hockey.

At three-on-three in overtime, Gionta scored again after an Isles turnover, sniping above Christopher Gibson's shoulder after a nice saucered Mark Pysyk pass from the corner. Rodrigues also picked up his first NHL assist on the play.

Playing Out the String

The Islanders took the opportunity to rest several players who are nursing injuries. Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, Thomas Hickey, Nikolay Kulemin and Marek Zidlicky were among the rested regulars, adding to an injury list that also includes Jaroslav Halak and Jean-Francois Berube, plus Travis Hamonic, Mikhail Grabovski and Anders Lee.

That meant a blueline with three rookies in Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, in his first game after a long injury layoff. At one point in overtime, Quine, Kearns and Mayfield were on the ice together -- a trio that was in Bridgeport earlier this week.

Jack Capuano elaborated:

"We've got some bumps and bruises. Tomorrow, we are really going to have to re-evaluate and look at what we are going to do with some of those guys. We played Johnny's (Tavares) line 16 or 17 minutes, (Nick) Leddy played 20 minutes - we are not laying down by any means. We're playing. Last game of the year, can't control mother nature, what happened early on but we are going to have to look at some things. It's tough to keep guys out of the lineup, they want to play. Five games in seven nights, guys are a little dinged up and we have to do what is right for our hockey club moving forward."

Quine played 18:17, Kearns played 18:15, Pulock played a career-high 22:19, and Pelech played 18:41. Even Eric Boulton came just eight seconds shy of the 10-minute mark.

In his second NHL start, Gibson stopped 22 of 26 shots. Presumably Thomas Greiss will start the next one.

Sunday brings the true finale, whatever its impact may be. The Flyers roll in for a 7 p.m. start after clinching (and partying?) with a win over Detroit this afternoon. They cannot change their seeding, a first-round meeting with the President's Trophy-winning Capitals, no matter what happens Sunday.