Buffalo, NY — the New York Islanders will finish their regular-season schedule tonight at First Niagara Center against the Buffalo Sabres at 7:00PM ET. Despite their respective positioning in the standings, tonight’s game looks to be an evenly matched affair, considering the recent play of both teams.
The Islanders (24-17-6, 54 points) have clinched their first playoff berth since the 2006-07 NHL season, but haven’t played their best hockey of late. Preceding last night’s 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers was a shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
In both games, the Isles lacked the type of jump and grit they showcased during their 11-1-2 run from Mar. 24 – Apr. 20, and their fans are becoming uneasy with their team’s lack of quality play from the opening faceoff.
Ironically enough, New York has a chance to right the ship tonight in Buffalo against a Sabres team that is in rebuilding mode – a state of the franchise that the Isles know all too well, having been there themselves for the past six years.
The Sabres (20-21-6, 46 points) have been eliminated from playoff contention and will have some serious decisions to make this offseason, namely regarding their all-star goalie, Ryan Miller.
Buffalo will start netminder Ryan Miller between the pipes, in what will be his 500th career NHL start since taking over the primary goaltending duties for the team in the 2005-06 season. Viewers are almost guaranteed to hear some version of “this could be Miller’s last game in a Sabres jersey” from the talking heads tonight.
Regardless of Miller’s potential move over the upcoming summer, his current team will have to focus on the task at hand to close the books on their 2013 campaign.
Buffalo is coming off a 4-2 road victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night and will likely relish the chance at spoiling the Islanders’ hopes for a playoff seed higher than 8th.
The Isles will need a regulation win – and some help from the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers – in order to avoid drawing the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
Somewhat disconcerting to the Islanders fan base is the decision of head coach Jack Capuano to start winger Eric Boulton over Jesse Joensuu – or even David Ullstrom – in tonight’s contest. Boulton was indirectly responsible for the Flyers’ first goal in last night’s game after being called for cross-checking. The Flyers would capitalize on the power play early in the first period.
Also, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky will get the night off; in his place will be Thomas Hickey. Capuano has indicated it’s purely a maintenance day for Visnovsky in preparation for next week’s playoffs.
But there’s good news for Isles supporters: veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov will make the start in net after being given a rest for last night’s game.
The Islanders are 1-1-0 against the Sabres this season, losing at home 3-2 on Feb. 9, but winning 4-0 in Buffalo on Feb. 23 on the strength of a 35-save shutout by Nabokov. Isles fans would certainly take another gem by their star goalie to finish the regular season.
For the Islanders, finishing the season strong will do wonders for the fan base’s confidence – not to mention their own – as they enter the playoffs next week. Although the concept of momentum at the end of the regular season carrying over is debatable, there’s no denying it still feels good to see your team finish on a high note.
As was made clear in many of the postgame interviews last night, the Isles players weren’t happy with their effort in Philadelphia. Tonight’s game offers an opportunity to put it behind them. Let’s do our part and put last night’s game behind us too. One game doesn’t make or break the season.
Besides, the Los Angeles Kings went 1-0-3 in their final four games last season. They didn’t look like world-beaters back then either…
26 Moulson – 91 Tavares – 24 Boyes
12 Bailey – 51 Nielsen – 21 Okposo
40 Grabner – 10 Aucoin – 13 McDonald
36 Boulton – 53 Cizikas – 17 Martin
47 MacDonald – 3 Hamonic
14 Hickey – 7 Carkner
2 Streit – 37 Strait
20 Evgeni Nabokov
60 Kevin Poulin
Keep it here at EyesOnIsles.com for ‘Dump & Chase’ and the postgame report.
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