BUFFALO - The long slog to the finish line ended Sunday night for the Islanders, whose 4-3 shootout win over the Sabres wrapped up one of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory.
The work begins Monday for general manager Garth Snow to begin evaluating his team. It also begins Monday for a host of his players, who, as Jack Capuano put it, "obviously weren't good enough this season."
There are a trio of young Islanders who likely aren't on that list. Anders Lee is one. He scored twice Sunday, giving him nine goals in only 22 games this season. Lee, who left Notre Dame after his junior season last spring to burn a year of his two-year contract, is a restricted free agent and a priority for Snow to sign.
Brock Nelson is another. He tied Sunday's game with his 14th goal, a wrist shot in traffic with 3:44 to play, then scored the lone goal of the shootout.
Then there's Ryan Strome. After an initial call-up from Bridgeport during which the 20-year-old was a bit hesitant, he has been a far more confident player during the final 22 games of the season. He had six goals and eight assists in that span and began to show a bit more of the creativity and offensive talent he used to become an all-star in half an AHL season.
"I think this year was big for me to know what it takes, how to survive in this league, how to excel," Strome said. "I think I can take those things, know how hard I have to work and come back more confident next year now that I have a handful of games under my belt. Just be able to come in, play my game and try to earn my spot."
He will need to mature physically this coming offseason, much the same way John Tavares, Strome's summer workout partner, used his offseasons to get stronger and much harder to move off the puck.
"My speed's a lot better than I thought it was going to be, my skating," Strome said. "I think maybe I can take a little bit of emphasis off that, work on my strength a little more. Obviously, everything's important, but the strength is the thing that, if I want to get to the next level, I need to work on."
Something was working throughout Strome's two NHL stints. As the Isles wrapped up the season at 34-37-11, their record with Strome in the lineup was 21-11-5. That includes a 12-7-3 finish post-Olympics, when Tavares was lost for the season and most of the other top-six forwards also were hurt. Lee also was up from Bridgeport for that 22-game stretch and had 14 points, same as Strome.
"We're all good buddies and that's helped each of us out," Lee said. "We can kind of keep tabs on each other and we've all gotten more comfortable here."
Notes & quotes: Anders Nilsson made 36 saves and three more in the shootout as the Isles finished the season with three straight road wins. They were 17-5-2 in their final 24 games away from Nassau Coliseum. They had to wait until Sunday night to see if the Flames got two points against the Canucks. They didn't, losing to Vancouver, so the Isles finished 26th overall, giving them an 8.1 percent chance to win Tuesday's draft lottery.