BUFFALO — This came directly from the “what do we have to lose?” file. Mired in doldrums and with their season slipping away, the Islanders finally gave J-F Berube a shot at starting a game in goal Friday night. The hope was that it would bring different energy, different karma and a different result.
That just didn’t happen, even though Berube, in the estimation of teammate Ryan Strome, “played unbelievable.” Even though it was an entirely different goalie, it was mostly the same old story: another squandered third-period lead, another untimely penalty and another disappointing night — a 3-2 overtime loss to the Sabres that followed three consecutive regulation defeats.
Rasmus Ristolainen whipped a shot over Berube’s pad 42 seconds into the extra period off a pass from Kyle Okposo, of all people, in the first game he ever played against the Islanders.
Hours earlier, Okposo had reflected on this past spring and one of his most cherished Islanders moments: when he and longtime teammate Frans Nielsen hugged each other in joy over finally having won a playoff series last spring. But now, with the Islanders having entered as the only team in the Eastern Conference with more regulation losses than victories, it is a scramble to get wins and crawl back into the race.
Enter Berube, who finally got a chance to start in the season’s 30th game. “You play hockey to play games, and it felt good to be out there. I was trying to make the most of it,” he said after making 34 saves.
It was going fine for two periods as the Islanders led 2-1 on a goal by Strome (his second in two nights) and a power-play shot by Alan Quine off a neat feed from Shane Prince.
Then, at 3:19 of the third, with two seconds left on a penalty to Andrew Ladd, Matt Moulson shoveled the puck through the crease. It caromed off the skate of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey and into the net.
“It’s hockey, you know? There’s a lot of things happening,” Berube said. “Bounces are going to happen and unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”
Not that anyone was blaming him. “He played great,” Prince said. “The goal in the third was kind of flukey. The overtime goal was a good play; he was kind of hung out to dry on that one. It’s kind of how things have been going for us. It’s frustrating. We’re playing well. We can’t seem to get the bounces in the third.”
Jack Capuano, who said earlier that penalty-killing had cost the team six games this season, added, “I was just hoping we could stay disciplined in the third and we didn’t. We took some penalties.”
The Islanders again seemed flat at the finish and were outshot 12-4 in the third period. Although they got a point, they needed more.
They might need the kind of discipline Berube has shown, working hard without having been given a start until the week before Christmas.
“I think the guys helped me show up at the rink every day with a good attitude,” the goalie said.
They just could not help him get a victory.