BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)Tage Thompson scored his team-leading 37th goal during a three-goal, second-period surge, and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the New York Islanders 5-3 on Saturday in a game between two non-playoff teams.
Jeff Skinner, with his 33rd of the season, stuffed in Thompson’s rebound with 7:20 left to secure the win after Buffalo nearly squandered a 4-1 third-period lead. Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt and Vinnie Hinostroza also scored, and Dustin Tokarski stopped 19 shots.
The Sabres hung on for their fourth straight victory, the team’s best since a 10-game run in November 2018.
”It’s something we can build confidence in. You come down late in games and those are the times when you need big plays,” Skinner said of the Sabres regaining their composure after Noah Dobson and Kieffer Bellows scored 1:37 apart to cut Buffalo’s lead to 4-3 with 9:38 remaining.
”You need to cut off momentum when it shifts in their direction,” Skinner added. ”And tonight it was one of those things where they grabbed a little bit of momentum there in that stretch and we were able to grab it back quickly.”
Coach Don Granato was especially impressed with how Skinner got under the Islanders’ skin early in the game by exchanging shoves with Zdeno Chara but maintained his focus by scoring a key goal.
”We talk a lot about you don’t give your emotional energy to the other team,” Granato said. ”And Skinner’s goal there pretty much sealed the game, and it came after all those what looked like individual altercations. He never lost sight of his responsibility to his teammates, to the system we play. He was ready to score a goal. So I love that.”
Mathew Barzal snapped a 10-game goal drought by one-timing Noah Dobson’s pass into the left circle to tie the game at 1 with 2:51 left in the opening period. Ilya Sorokin stopped 30 shots in dropping to 1-3-1 in his past five starts.
The under-performing and injury-depleted Islanders dropped to 0-3-1 in their past four in entering the final week of a season in which expectations had them making a deep playoff run to christen their newly built UBS Arena. Their season, however, was mostly undone by an 0-8-3 skid spanning November and December.
”It’s been a mentally challenging year,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz acknowledged before noting it shouldn’t be an excuse for how things unraveled in the second period. ”We’re not a good enough team to say, `Hey, we can take the period off.’ We’re not gifted offensively like that. They responded in the third and got it to within a goal. And then we just have to hold them. We didn’t do it and we’re sitting here with a loss.”
The Sabres, by comparison, are surging. They improved to 15-8-3 in their past 26 to close a season in which they’ve long been eliminated from playoff contention for an NHL-record 11th straight year.
Thompson’s emergence as an offensive threat has been one of many bright spots for the Sabres, who are already looking ahead to building for next season with a roster that should return mostly intact.
Dahlin, the 2018 draft’s No. 1 pick, scored the go-ahead goal by blasting in a shot from the blue line 1:17 into the second period. Thompson scored less than four minutes later by one-timing in Jacob Bryson’s pass into the left circle.
Hinostroza capped the second-period run by faking a backhand and going forehand in flipping the puck inside the far right post while driving to the net off a no-look pass from Anders Bjork.
The Islanders’ frustrations showed with 5:20 left when Matt Martin jumped Skinner in the neutral zone after the whistle. Several other players squared off and Skinner eventually traded shoves and punches with Adam Pelech. Skinner initially received a minor penalty before officials announced after the game that he was also issued a 10-minute misconduct. Martin received minors for roughing, while Pelech and Ross Johnston also were issued 10-minute misconducts.
”It’s fun to watch,” Mittelstadt said of Skinner’s peskiness in frustrating the Islanders. ”He’s one of my best friends and I’m pretty sure I would hate his guts on the other side. We’re lucky to have him.”
Islanders: LW Nathan Beauvillier (upper body) and C Jean-Gabriel Pageau (COVID-19) missed their second consecutive games. Trotz ruled out both from playing on Sunday.
Sabres: G Craig Anderson (undisclosed) is listed day-to-day after experiencing discomfort in practice on Friday. Buffalo recalled Aaron Dell from AHL Rochester to be the backup.
Islanders: Host the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.
Sabres: Close season road schedule at the Boston Bruins on Thursday.
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