BUFFALO — One team at KeyBank Center on Thursday looked like it was ready to make a run at a playoff berth.
It wasn’t the Islanders.
They can now add the Sabres to the list of teams they’ll need to fend off if the postseason is in the cards. That looks less likely than ever following a 3-2 overtime loss at Buffalo’s hands on Thursday night — the third game in four that’s seen the Islanders score first and blow the lead.
Victor Olofsson tied it and Dylan Cozens won it for the Sabres in overtime, just 12 seconds into the extra period. The Islanders get a point, but its not one that will make them feel good.
The Sabres, who have played three fewer games than the Islanders, are just four points behind them in the standings. And the Islanders, who have played three more games than the Penguins, are still a point behind Pittsburgh for the final wild-card spot in the East.
That would put them between a rock and a hard place, without even accounting for their recent run of form. As to that, though, Thursday was their seventh loss in eight games and 10th in 12 since the new year. This is starting to rival the COVID-19-addled stretch that took them out of the playoff race last season. These Isles — while dealing with some injuries, including new ones to Hudson Fasching and Cal Clutterbuck, which saw Fasching sit out the entire game Thursday and Clutterbuck leave midway through the second — are nowhere near as undermanned as last season’s.
Likewise, this situation doesn’t seem quite as hopeless as that one. But it is looking worse by the day, and 24 hours after Lane Lambert was asked if a loss to the Bruins qualified as the season’s low point, the Isles dug deeper.
Taking a 2-1 lead into the final period, the Islanders made it 9:32 before surrendering the tying goal, as Olofsson fired home a puck from the left circle to beat Sorokin to make it 2-2, energizing a crowd that had been waiting all night for the door to be kicked down.
They would have to wait until overtime to finally do so, but Cozens finally did in the extra period.
Sorokin, who finished with 42 stops, was brilliant for the Islanders all night, keying them to that lead through 40 minutes despite the Isles being outshot, 31-16, by the second intermission. Fittingly, he was named to his first All-Star Game during the third period, though the Islanders could not reward him with a win.
After 20 minutes, Buffalo led the shot count, 18-5, and the high-danger chance count, 10-2. Still, the Islanders had a 1-0 lead — the product of a rush chance at 7:19 in which Anthony Beauvillier’s picture-perfect pass found Brock Nelson for a redirect on the doorstep.
Matt Martin snapped home a beautiful low-to-high feed from Casey Cizikas at 18:30 of the second period to give the Islanders their second lead of the game, 2-1. Ten minutes earlier, when Alex Tuch poked in Rasmus Dahlin’s rebound to tie it, there was an open question as to whether the Islanders could show the sort of resilience and desperation necessary to have a chance at two points on the road.
For a while, they did.
Just not long enough.
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