Well this could’ve gone better. It’s hard to not feel like this matchup against the Sabres had “trap game” written all over it. After a big win over the Rangers to clinch a playoff spot just two days ago, it should’ve been smooth sailing to take down the mostly listless Sabres. But that’s why they play the games. This Buffalo team has a new coach since the Isles dismantled them several times by a 5-2 scoreline, and the Isles have struggled to play to their normal high level against any team that isn’t the Rangers as of late. Even so, things looked good as the Isles picked up a 2-1 lead going into the third period.
But defensive breakdowns and mistakes led to pucks going past Varlamov, and ultimately the Sabres would come back to beat the Islanders, 4-2. I’d be a lot angrier if we hadn’t just clinched a playoff spot, and if the story on the other end of the ice wasn’t so nice: a 28 year old mostly ECHL goalie making his NHL debut, still wearing a mask themed to Buffalo’s AHL affiliate team, getting a win in his first game. Peak Islanders, honestly!
Leo Komarov went to the box early for hooking, giving the Sabres a chance to set up their pretty strong power play. The Isles were able to kill this one though, and then the game later shifted their way when Adam Pelech opened the scoring.
Pelech took a shot that hit Henri Jokiharju and went in past Michael Houser, giving the Isles a one goal lead.
Pelech makes it 1-0! pic.twitter.com/IBokyD9gnb— x - Isles on MSG+2 Tonight (@IslesMSGN) May 3, 2021
Brock Nelson nearly made it 2-0, but hit the post on a breakaway, and Leo Komarov took a second penalty, also for hooking, and the Isles were able to kill this power play, too.
It looked like Matt Martin might have made it 2-0, tipping a Ryan Pulock shot past Houser, but Casey Cizikas had bumped Houser beforehand, and the Sabres challenged the play for goaltender interference. After a moderately timed review, the goal was overturned, and the Isles were back to just the one goal lead. The situation was a little ambiguous, and I’ll leave it here for you to decide:
Ruled no goal— x - Isles on MSG+2 Tonight (@IslesMSGN) May 4, 2021
The Sabres put some pressure on the Islanders after that reversed call, and Ryan Pulock was stuck out on an over three minute shift, but Varlamov and the defense were able to keep the Sabres scoreless.
Then, the Isles went up 2-0, for real this time, when Oliver Wahlstrom tipped another Pelech shot five hole past Houser. It’s Wahlstrom’s 11th of the season in just 40 games for the rookie. Please play him more, Barry!
Scott Mayfield went to the box for interference after taking Jeff Skinner down away from the puck, and Tage Thompson put the Sabres back within one on the man advantage, ending Varlamov’s shutout streak at 248:00, shattering the franchise record.
The Islanders had a power play of their own when Rasmus Ristolainen went to the box for tripping Mat Barzal, but the Isles PP was its usual self (aka bad) and so it’d be 2-1 Islanders going into the third frame.
The team gave a pretty weak effort defensively in the third, leaving Varlamov out to dry several times, and eventually it came back to bite them.
Rasmus Asplund tied the game as a loose puck found its way to him right in front of Varlamov, and then after a regrettable icing where you could hear an Islander audibly groan, a faceoff loss led to Sam Reinhart giving the Sabres the lead.
The Isles pulled Varlamov for the extra skater, but Nick Leddy fumbled the puck on a play from the point, and Reinhart scored again to secure the win for Buffalo. Now I’m the one groaning!!
- Varlamov should absolutely be in Vezina consideration this season. He’s got a bunch of NHL-leads for goaltenders, and has been overall fantastic. Sad to see the shutout streak end, but his team really did not help him out at all.
- Pageau was out tonight after leaving the game against the Rangers early after taking a hit from Morgan Barron. Hopefully this is all precautionary, especially now that we’ve clinched. Pageau plays a lot of key minutes for us and it’ll be good to have him fresh.
- I can’t be too mad about this game, but it’d be nice to see some consistent effort (and some wins) against teams that aren’t the Rangers!
Next, we’ll do this all over again. The second half of the back to back in Buffalo will feature Michael Houser again, and likely we’ll be opting for Ilya Sorokin. Now that the first game magic is gone for Houser, let’s win this one...