Brock Nelson of the Islanders and Zemgus Girgensons of the Sabres...

Brock Nelson of the Islanders and Zemgus Girgensons of the Sabres battle for the puck during the second period at UBS Arena on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

To get the three wins this week that would greatly enhance their playoff chances, the Islanders had to win the first one.

So now it’s on to Pittsburgh after a critical 3-2 victory over the Sabres on Tuesday night at UBS Arena with all three goals coming from bottom-six forwards.

“It’s a big win,” coach Lane Lambert said. “Every one of them is an important game and certainly to get off on the right foot this week is huge for us.”

The Islanders (33-25-8) maintained a one-point lead over the Penguins, who have played three fewer games, for the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot. They moved six points ahead of the Sabres (32-27-4), who have also played three fewer games but are in a 1-4-0 skid after losing on back-to-back nights.

The Islanders — at a disadvantage in having played more games than the other six teams vying for a wild-card spot — visit the Penguins on Thursday night and host the Capitals on Saturday night. The Penguins fought back from four goals down to beat Columbus in overtime Tuesday night.

“This is an important way to start the week,” captain Anders Lee said. “We knew coming in there was a lot on the line. There are a few teams are vying for those last couple of spots and we’re one of them. Just another important game.”

Ilya Sorokin made 22 saves while the Sabres’ Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 36 shots.

“We knew going into the game the situation in the standings,” said Josh Bailey, who knocked in a loose puck off the right post with a backhander to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 1:51 of the third period. “You use it as motivation. It gets you excited. It gets you juiced up for the game. You want to go out there and have your best performance as a team and we did enough to get the win.”

Ex-Islander Kyle Okposo connected through a screen from the left point to tie it at 2-2 at 4:59.

But Bailey also set up Hudson Fasching’s winner at 7:37 as his feed to the left post went in off Fasching’s knee. The goal was initially waved off for a kicking motion but overturned after a lengthy review.

“The guys were joking with me,” Fasching said. “I just saw [the puck] and it was like a reaction. I had no idea what really happened. I didn’t think I kicked it. I didn’t know you could kick it with you knee. I just went to the net, it went off me and went in. I’m happy they gave me the goal.”

The Islanders now have 16 games remaining and probably still need to earn 20-22 more points to feel comfortable about qualifying for the postseason.

The Sabres also visit UBS Arena on March 25 and, after Saturday, the Islanders face the Capitals twice more in Washington. The Islanders can sweep the four-game season series against the Penguins on Thursday.

Dylan Cozens gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead at 5:00 of the second period as he got to the crease and beat Sorokin past his blocker.

Lambert then started shuffling his lines, elevating Simon Holmstrom from the fourth line to top-line center Bo Horvat’s right wing along with Lee.

But it was Casey Cizikas and the third line — joined by Bailey after he started on the fourth line  — that set up the Islanders’ first goal.

Cizikas won an offensive-zone faceoff against Cozens and established position just above the blue paint. Fasching, from behind the crease, found Cizikas, who stuffed it past Luukkonen at 12:38 of the second period.

“You always want to chip in offensively,” said Cizikas, who notched his first goal in 22 games.

f the opening faceoff with the Sabres having more jump despite losing to the visiting Oilers 3-2 on Monday night.

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