The Sabres played a big role in this disappointing Islanders season, which turned around the Thomas Vanek-Matt Moulson deal nearly five months ago.
Neither of those players was on the Nassau Coliseum ice Saturday night, having been dealt away at last week's trade deadline. It instead was a matchup of two teams headed for the draft lottery -- and the Islanders managed to hold on to a two-goal lead, taking a 4-1 decision.
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Ryan Strome scored off his own rebound 1:35 into the third period to get the Isles' two-goal edge back after Tyler Ennis cut the lead in half only 49 seconds earlier. Anders Nilsson made 33 saves for the win and Kyle Okposo had a goal and an assist.
Cal Clutterbuck scored into an empty net to seal the win, only the Islanders' second win in their last 11 games at home. They also stopped a bad trend of losing games after taking two-goal leads after two periods, having dropped games in Edmonton and Calgary last week after leading by two through 40 minutes.
"They got that power-play goal and I'm sure you were thinking, 'Here we go again,' " Jack Capuano said. "But we got a good shift and a good goal right back."
The last time these two teams interacted, on Oct. 27, was a turning point in the Islanders' season. Garth Snow sent Moulson, a conditional 2014 first-round pick (the Isles can defer it to 2015 if, as expected now, it is within the top 10 picks in June) and a 2015 second-round pick for Vanek.
The Islanders were 4-4-3 at the time and Snow said he expected better. What the Islanders got was worse. Vanek produced some points with John Tavares, but the team's overall defense and goaltending slipped badly. Vanek turned down a seven-year, $50-million offer from the Islanders in January, when the team was playing better. After his rejection, the Isles went into a 2-8-1 tailspin.
And Snow did not get much of a return for Vanek at the trade deadline, just as the Sabres did not get much for Moulson, shipping him to the Wild for a pair of second-round picks and fourth-line forward Torrey Mitchell. Moulson and his new team visit the Coliseum on Tuesday.
Saturday night, the remnants of both the Islanders and Sabres got together. Buffalo dressed only nine players who were in uniform on opening night this season. The Islanders had 12 players who were in uniform on Oct. 3.
When Strome scored in the third to answer the Sabres' goal, Okposo already was confident the Isles were in a winning position. "That was a good 60 minutes we played tonight," he said. "It was never really in doubt, even when they scored. Stromey came back with a big one and we didn't look back. It felt good."
Frans Nielsen took a drop pass from Anders Lee and slapped a shot that caromed off Jhonas Enroth's glove and in just 3:31 into the game for a 1-0 lead.
It became 2-0 when Okposo scored his 27th goal at 17:24 on the power play, a quick shot from the slot after a short pass from Brock Nelson. The two points marked Okposo's 21st multi-point game this season.