It made for a tough 48 hours for the Sabres, who came into town after losing to the Oilers at home in regulation on Monday night. That setting may have played into the hands of the Islanders, who had a good but not dynamic first period before turning up the pressure for the rest of the game. They fell behind five minutes into the second, 1-0, when Dylan Cozens took advantage of a car wreck at the Islanders blueline to take a free lane to the net. But for the rest of the night they played with more drive while limiting the Sabres flow.
This game was on ESPN+, and at the first intermission the panel (Ryan Callahan and P.K. Subban) shared all kinds of laughs about the Islanders’ “sleepy” style of play — which would no doubt earn all kinds of “professional/veteran” accolades when displayed by any other team. But it was actually a perfect formula, frustrating the young, more free-wheeling Sabres before turning the screws to the tune to a 39-24 shot advantage.
(Besides, we’ve seen the Islanders in free-wheeling “entertainment” mode, and it ain’t pretty.)
This low-scoring game turned quickly in the third period, with — just like old times — Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo exchanging goals in a 3:08 span before the period was five minutes old. Both Snow Era Isles have struggled to produce this season, each notching his eighth goal of the season.
HEYYYY JOSHHHH BAIIILLLLLEEEY pic.twitter.com/yzVMQ9AhPI— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 8, 2023
Okposo’s goal tied the score at 2-2 and set the stage for Hudson Fasching, who had a really strong night, to score the first game-winning goal of his NHL career just 2:38 later. It went off his shin, and the officials on the ice initially waived it off before being overruled by Toronto, but he’ll take it. (Literally, he’ll take it.) The Islanders had been applying pressure so the outcome wasn’t a surprise, though the puck’s path to the net was unconventional.
The trio of Fasching with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin overall had a really effective night; it was Cizikas’ relentless forecheck and Fasching’s creative play behind the net that set up Cizikas’ goal to tie it at 1-1 midway through the second period.
Fasching sets it up. CIZIKAS NETS IT. pic.twitter.com/Ch3amGNdeP— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 8, 2023
Bo Horvat also had another very strong night, hitting the crossbar and having two breakaways among his quality chances. Martin actually helped clear Horvat for a breakaway in the second, which Horvat ultimately fanned on under pressure from a backchecker.
The game could’ve gone in either direction at various times, but after a fairly quiet first period, the Islanders certainly generated some golden chances that were stopped by, in no particular order, Owen Power at the goal line, Rasmus Dahlin getting just enough of a 2-on-1 pass to prevent a Nelson-Palmieri conversion, and another Fashing chance hitting iron.
Ilya Sorokin, despite only needing 22 saves, was there for some key moments per usual. On the two goals conceded, Cozens walked in all alone and fooled him into thinking he’d shoot glove-side before releasing just inside the opposite post; Okposo’s goal came on a vicious mid-slot deflection with Jordan Greenway blocking out the sun in front of Sorokin.
With the goalie pulled for over two minutes, the Islanders mostly avoided getting hemmed in, forcing multiple Sabres regroups and generally avoiding icings with their clears. (One Zach Parise clear, in particular, slowed to a stop hilariously close to the far red line.) But in the dying seconds, with the Sabres establishing possession down low and trying to create some cross-crease opportunities, Adam Pelech and Parise were there to help hold the fort till the end.
With the win, the Isles improved to 20-11-3 at home, which is starting to look like a thing.
Thus Spaketh Lane
Lambert Postgame Availability pic.twitter.com/psiojdkQS4— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 8, 2023
On Thursday the Isles visit Pittsburgh, where tonight the Penguins reversed a 4-0 deficit to Columbus to come back and win in overtime.
So the Pens kept pace with the Islanders as the two current wild card holders. The Panthers also won, at home against Vegas, to pull ahead of the Sabres and four points behind the Isles.