Islanders aim to keep win streak alive in matchup vs. Sabres
The New York Islanders have followed up one of their hottest months in years with an almost identical performance. But the Buffalo Sabres have spent the last two months undoing the margin for error they built up during a franchise record-tying 10-game winning streak.
Two teams on the opposite ends of the Eastern Conference playoff race will face each other Tuesday night, when the Sabres host the Islanders.
Both teams were off Monday after playing Sunday, when the Islanders earned their third straight win by edging the visiting Minnesota Wild, 2-1, and the host Sabres fell to the Winnipeg Jets, 3-1.
The Islanders' win ensured they would lead the Metropolitan Division by at least three points heading into Tuesday night (the second-place Washington Capitals hosted the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night) and lengthened their lead over the Carolina Hurricanes, who are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, to 10 points.
In other words, the Islanders are all but certain to make the playoffs, just one season after missing the postseason by 17 points and then watching star center and captain John Tavares depart as a free agent for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We're at the top of our division," Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock told Newsday. "There are all those teams below us trying to catch us. It's good, though. If we keep winning, they're not going to be able to catch us."
The Islanders haven't given division rivals much reason to hope since Dec. 15, a stretch in which they have gone 19-4-2. New York enjoyed a six-game winning streak from Dec. 23 through Jan. 5 and is 9-1-2 dating back to Jan. 13.
The Sabres' attention-getting win streak, meanwhile, has receded farther into the rear-view mirror. Buffalo surged into playoff contention by tying a franchise record with 10 straight from Nov. 8 through Nov. 27, but it is just 10-15-5 since then and has not won back-to-back games since Dec. 11-13.
Now the Sabres, who haven't reached the postseason since the 2010-11 campaign, must leapfrog multiple teams in order to get back into the top eight. Buffalo is in 10th place in the East, one point behind the Hurricanes and two points behind the final wild card, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were scheduled to host the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night.
"I don't know how many times we can take the moral victory anymore," Sabres center Jack Eichel said after Sunday's loss. "I mean, we're 55 games into the year. ... Other teams are getting points, moving up in the standings. We're not."
A pair of No. 1 goalies are likely to oppose each other Tuesday.
The Islanders' Robin Lehner sat out Sunday's game, when Thomas Greiss made 26 saves in the win over the Wild. Lehner last played Saturday, when he earned the victory by recording 25 saves as New York edged the Colorado Avalanche, 4-3, in overtime.
Carter Hutton took the loss for the Sabres on Sunday, when he made 26 saves.
Lehner, who spent the previous three seasons with the Sabres, is 2-1-2 in five career regular season appearances against Buffalo. Hutton is 1-1-0 in three games against the Islanders.
--Field Level MediaHome