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Islanders 4, Sabres 2: Lee lifts Isles to a much needed win

Without their captain, goals by Cal Clutterbuck, Josh Ho-Sang, and Anders Lee helped lead the Isles to victory in Buffalo.

NHL: New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres
This guy might be good at scoring goals or something.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 in their first game post-John Tavares injury. Without the captain, the lineup looked fairly bleak, with a top line comprised of Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, and Josh Ho-Sang, with the rest of the lineup looking like three different third or fourth lines. Despite that, goals from Cal Clutterbuck, Ho-Sang, and Anders Lee lifted the Isles over the Sabres, giving them a much needed victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.

[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz]

First Period

The Islanders played a strong first period, outshooting the Sabres 12-6. However, the Sabres had their moments, and against a strong run of play by Buffalo, Nick Leddy slipped out of the zone and carried the puck in to find Cal Clutterbuck, who scored off a wrist shot at a weird angle. The goal was Clutterbuck’s second in three games, and fifth of the season.

After Jack Eichel took a minor penalty for crosschecking, the Isles had a chance on the man advantage, but once again, they did not find the back of the net. The anemic power play is part of a whole set of issues, but at some point they have to realize it might be more than just bad luck.

Second Period

Jaroslav Halak made a great save to maintain the Isles lead early, but Thomas Hickey took a penalty for interference on the same play. The Sabres boast the NHL’s best power play, but the Isles were up to the challenge. Anthony Beauvillier also took a penalty a few minutes later, but again the penalty kill stayed strong. However, Evander Kane was able to tie the game after the Isles got caught on a bad change that led to a three on one for Buffalo.

The game wasn’t tied for long, though, as less than a minute later, Dennis Seidenberg set Josh Ho-Sang up on a breakaway, and the best player to ever wear #66 in the league made some smooth moves to beat Lehner and restore the Isles’ lead.

The Isles spent a lot of time in the defensive zone this period, and it showed when Alan Quine took a penalty, the Islanders’ third of the period. The Sabres’ power play was unable to get anything done on the opportunities, allowing the Isles to close out the period up a goal.

Third Period

About five minutes into the third period, Zemgus Girgensons deflected the puck past Halak off a nice play to tie the game. Once again, the score was not tied for long, as the puck found Anders Lee high in the slot on a fortunate bounce, and he scored for his 30th goal of the season.

Stephen Gionta tripped Jack Eichel, but the Isles’ PK managed to go 4/4 against the NHL’s top ranked power play. Anders Lee then scored again off a backhand closer to his usual territory by the net, for his second of the game and 31st of the season.

When the Sabres pulled Lehner for the extra skater, the Islanders all tried to get Lee his natural hat trick, but it wasn’t to be. NHL debutant Connor Jones even had a chance at the empty net, but hit the post after outworking Ryan O’Reilly. The Isles closed out the game with a 4-2 victory, still keeping their playoff just barely alive.

Playoff Picture

With the win this afternoon, the Islanders have 86 points in 78 games, tying them with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have a game in hand. The Ottawa Senators currently hold the second wild card spot with 91 points, and the Sens also have a game in hand over the Isles. Ottawa and Toronto are tied for points, but the Maple Leafs sit in the third Atlantic spot by virtue of having the ROW advantage. Boston is currently is second in the Atlantic with just a point ahead of the Leafs and Senators, but the Isles have a game in hand on the Bruins, but the Bruins boast a major ROW advantage over all the playoff spot competitors in the Eastern Conference.

Basically? If the Islanders want to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to win out. That’s a tough ask without John Tavares, and with three more away games up next including games against the tough to play Predators and the suddenly surging Hurricanes, it’ll be a challenge.

Up Next

The New York Islanders head to the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville to take on the Predators. The Predators have yet to officially clinch a playoff spot, but are 10 points ahead of Los Angeles for the second wild card spot in the West. They beat the Islanders a few games ago at the Barclays Center, and boast a 24-9-7 home record. As is every game at this point for the Isles, it’s a must win.