Buffalo Sabres (22-48-8) at New York Islanders (45-27-6), 7 p.m. (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) – The New York Islanders are almost certainly headed to the postseason, but the struggling club hasn’t made things easy on itself.
The Islanders will try to clinch a playoff spot with just their third win in 11 games when they host the lowly Buffalo Sabres in Saturday’s clash at Nassau Coliseum.
New York has 96 points, placing it in a tie with the Washington Capitals for the second of three postseason berths from the Metropolitan Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins are one point behind in fourth place and also are occupying the first of two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference.
All three teams are playing on Saturday. The Capitals are visiting Ottawa, while the Pens are on the road against Columbus. Pittsburgh has five games remaining in the regular season, while the Caps and Isles each have four left.
The Isles can officially wrap up a spot in the postseason for only the second time in eight years with a win tonight and a regulation loss by the Ottawa Senators in Saturday’s game against Washington. The Islanders last made the playoffs in 2013.
New York halted a three-game slide with Sunday’s 5-4 home win over Detroit, but followed with Thursday’s 4-3 shootout loss in Columbus.
The Isles led 3-1 after Ryan Strome scored 55 seconds into the third period, but the Blue Jackets would send the game to overtime thanks to goals from Jack Johnson and Ryan Johansen. New York was then outshot 7-0 in OT before losing in the shootout.
John Tavares scored his 35th goal of the season and added an assist for the Islanders, who have dropped eight of their last 10 games. Jaroslav Halak made 36 saves in the loss, but failed to stop either of the Blue Jackets’ attempts in the shootout.
“They did a great job of getting (point) shots to the net, and that’s how they scored three goals,” said Islanders coach Jack Capuano.
Tonight’s tilt is New York’s penultimate regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum, as the club is set to move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the start of next season. The Isles will follow Saturday’s game with stops in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh before hosting Columbus on April 11 for the final regular-season tilt scheduled at the Coliseum.
New York is 24-14-1 at home during its final season on Long Island.
Isles forward Mikhail Grabovski returned to practice on Thursday, but is not expected to play tonight. The centerman has been sidelined with an upper-body injury since Feb. 19.
Buffalo had a two-game win streak snapped by visiting Chicago on Friday evening. The Sabres rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to grab the lead in the third period, but Jonathan Toews scored two goals in a span of 47 seconds late in regulation to deliver a 4-3 win for the Blackhawks.
Marcus Foligno scored twice and his second tally handed the Sabres a 3-2 edge with 7:18 left in the third. However, Toews evened things with 1:43 remaining and then posted the game-winner with 56 seconds left.
“You have to take it with a grain of salt,” Buffalo coach Ted Nolan said of the loss. “You have a guy in Toews who’s won just about every championship there is to win. … Those are learning curves that we’re going to go through.”
The Sabres entered the game off their first back-to-back wins since Feb. 24 and 26. Johan Larsson also scored for Buffalo, while Anders Lindback made 32 saves in the loss.
Buffalo remains last in the NHL with 52 points and only four games remaining. Arizona has 54 points with four games to play.
Former Islanders forward Matt Moulson missed Friday’s game with an illness and is questionable for tonight. He is Buffalo’s second-leading scorer this season with 40 points on 13 goals and 27 assists.
The Isles have won three of their last four games against Buffalo and have gained at least a point in seven straight meetings (4-0-3). The Sabres had won three straight on Long Island before the Islanders recorded a 4-1 decision on March 15.