UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored a tiebreaking power-play goal in the third period and Semyon Varlamov made 34 saves, leading the New York Islanders to a 3-2 win over the last-place Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.
Pageau got his seventh goal at 15:08 when he banged in a rebound after Oliver Wahlstrom’s initial shot was stopped by Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark. Pageau was acquired in a trade with Ottawa a year ago and scored eight goals in the playoffs with the Islanders.
“My confidence is good. I’m trying to do my best and things are bouncing my way right now,” Pageau said. “I just have to keep going in the same direction.”
The Islanders beat the Sabres for the third straight time this season after two victories in Buffalo last week. The Islanders also moved to 5-0-1 at Nassau Coliseum, where they are playing their final season before moving to a new arena at Belmont Park next season.
“It feels like each game that passes, each game is the biggest game,” Islanders forward Matt Martin said. ”It’s going to come down to the wire and we have to find ways to win as we did tonight.”
Martin put New York in front 3:01 into the third, beating Ullmark with a shot from just inside the blueline for his second goal of the season.
But Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart tied it at 2 at 5:48, batting the puck out of midair past Varlamov for this sixth goal.
Ullmark played well in the third, denying Brock Nelson and Adam Pelech on consecutive shots in the same sequence and stopping Pageau swooping in with just over nine minutes left. Ullmark made 20 saves.
“This is probably the most painful loss of the season for the way we were able to actually neutralize them, create opportunity but come out on the short end of the stick again,” Sabres coach Ralph Kreuger said.
Sabres forward Curtis Lazar opened the scoring with his fourth goal 17:15 into the first. It was only the fifth time in 15 games that the Sabres scored the first goal. Buffalo outshot New York 12-3 in the opening period.
Anders Lee tied it at 1 with his eighth of the season 3:56 into the second. After Mathew Barzal kept the puck in the Sabres zone, Lee finished a solid passing sequence with Ryan Pulock and Jordan Eberle by backhanding the puck past Ullmark.
The Islanders have won six straight against the Sabres. The Sabres are 2-7-2 in their last 11 games overall against the Islanders.
“This league you are going to be judged on your wins and losses, there is no mystery about that,” Lazar said. “It was a hard-fought game. Obviously they are a very structured team, there is no secret about that.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz praised Varlamov’s performance after he made 16 saves in the third.
“Varly was huge tonight. He made some huge saves off the power play and at the end there,” Trotz said. ”And tonight the hockey gods were in our favor with a couple of posts they hit.”
Monday’s game was originally scheduled for Feb. 2, but it was postponed because of COVID-19 issues with the Sabres.
The Islanders are 7-1-2 this season when they score at least three goals.
The Sabres will be without defenseman Jake McCabe for the rest of the season after he injured his right knee during Saturday’s 3-2 victory at New Jersey.
The 27-year-old McCabe was diagnosed with ligament and meniscus damage, and the team said he will need six to eight months to recover. McCabe got hurt trying to hit Devils captain Nico Hischier along the boards in the third period.
Sabres forward Tobias Rieder left Monday’s loss at 15:38 of the first after a shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock.
The Sabres made struggling forward Jeff Skinner a healthy scratch for the first time this season. A 40-goal scorer two seasons ago for the Sabres, Skinner signed an eight-year, $72 million contract extension in June 2019. He scored only 14 goals in 59 games last season and has just one assist in 14 games this season.
Islanders: Hosting Boston Bruins on Thursday.
Sabres: Visiting New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.
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