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Isles-Sabres: From Turvy to Topsy to Turvy; And One Point

By Stan Fischler
February 4, 2012

In this topsy-turvy National Hockey League world, where bottom-feeding Carolina can beat Cup champion Boston four-out-of-four, anything can happen.

That’s why the Islanders would like to enter the world of topsy and rev up their motors to a serious playoff-bound pitch.
 
They took a step in that direction on Friday night, defeating the Senators in overtime at Ottawa. To complete the positive double-dip, a Saturday eve triumph over visiting Buffalo would have been icing on the cake.
 
But it wasn’t to be as the Sabres triumphed, 4-3, in a shootout after Buffalo scored two-out-of-two against Al Montoya in the extra-extra-session while Ryan Miller in the Buffalo cage stopped two-out-of-two.
 
“It was unfortunate we didn’t get the two points,” said Montoya. “We have to continue getting points each game to stay in the playoff hunt.”
 
In a sense, three out of a possible four points isn’t the worst thing for coach Jack Capuano’s skaters who seemed to run out of gas in several points of the game.
 
“I don’t buy ‘running out of gas’ as an excuse,” said Cappy. “Every team in the NHL has back-to-back games.”
 
There were several reasons for frustration in the home team’s room postgame.
 
For one thing, the Isles blew a 3-1 lead after the first period and led 3-2 with less than nine minutes remaining. In addition, New York had a full power play in the overtime, but couldn’t beat Miller.
 
“We had a lot of good chances in the OT,” said captain Mark Streit. “Give Miller credit for some good saves and some luck when shots just hit him.”
 
The good news for the home club is that the Isles remain in the race, still only one win under .500.
 
“We still can gain a playoff berth,” said Josh Bailey, who tallied his sixth goal of the season in the first period, sandwiched between a pair by Frans Nielsen.
 
The Isles struck first at 1:39 when Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber turned the puck over behind his net.
 
Michael Grabner snared the loose puck and skimmed a perfect pass to a wide open Nielsen at the top of the slot. The Isles' defensive forward snapped the rubber over goalie Ryan Miller’s blocker for his eighth goal of the season.
 
For the next 10 minutes the game took a bizarre -- call it topsy-turvy -- turn.
 
Buffalo owned the puck almost never relinquishing it and came away with a goal but no more than that. The lone Sabres’ score came about when Nathan Gerbe wristed a shot off Montoya’s blocker and over the red line at 5:32.
 
Over and over again, the Sabres peppered Montoya with a total of 17 shots, just missing goals on at least four occasions. Somehow Montoya and Co. weathered the storm and then, almost miraculously, the Islanders put two more on the board.
 
The Isles went ahead, 2-1, on Bailey’s score at 16:00. The play began when Nielsen launched a well-executed two-on-one before Frans found Bailey streaking down the left boards. Bailey collected his own rebound and fired a shot over Miller’s left pad.
 
“It was a great play by Frans,” said Bailey. “He knew where I was and luckily I was at the right place at the right time.”
 
Just 1:17 later, Nielsen scored his second goal. Camped behind the Sabres' net, Kyle Okposo detected Nielsen open at the top of the slot before wristing a shot over Miller’s blocker.
 
At the time, the two-goal lead looked secure, but only if the Isles used it to develop momentum; which they never did.
 
“We could have played better,” explained Nielsen. “We had a lot of scoring opportunities but we have to start capitalizing on our chances better.”
 
No more than nine seconds into the second period, Matt Martin and Patrick Kaleta exchanged punches in an intense fight that ended in a draw.
 
In a reverse of the first-period trend, the Islanders enjoyed the better of the play with zilch to show for it.
 
Suddenly, in the final two minutes, the Sabres emerged from their stupor and stung the Islanders with a gap-closing goal from the stick of Derek Roy.
 
Roy’s slapshot from the top of the blue line beat a screened Montoya with 1:19 left, setting up a thrilling third period for two equally-desperate-to-make-the-playoffs teams.
 
For the home club, it was a matter of maintaining their positive vibes. For the visitors, it was a question of keeping pace with New York.
 
As it happened, the Sabres kept pace with the Islanders.
 
Paul Gaustad tied the count at 11:46. Defenseman Tyler Myers kept the puck inside the Islanders' zone before finding an open Gaustad at the top of the slot, who wristed a shot over Montoya’s blocker, forcing the game into overtime.
 
This is where the Isles had an opportunity to impale the Sabres.
 
At 2:28 of overtime, Buffalo was penalized for too-many-men on the ice. But Miller was spectacular, making timely saves when the Sabres needed them, forcing the game-deciding Shootout.
 
It started badly and ended badly for Cappy’s crew. Miller made easy stops on PA Parenteau and Nielsen whereas Brad Boyes and Jason Pominville made it just as simple in beating Montoya.
 
The Islanders next face the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

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