Mathew Barzal went from an off night to a night off.
So did grinders Matt Martin and Leo Komarov as coach Barry Trotz starts to rest his regulars before the playoffs. Sitting his top-line center, Trotz said, was not an attention getter following a dispassionate loss to the NHL-worst Sabres on Monday night.
The Islanders were more engaged in Tuesday night’s rematch, taking a season-high 48 shots. But they again could not hold either a two-goal lead or a third-period lead in a 4-3 shootout loss at KeyBank Center.
"Really, it’s just giving guys rest," Trotz said. "Those guys play a lot of minutes and I need them fresh and ready for the playoffs. They’re big pieces of what we do."
The fourth-place Islanders (31-16-6) now have only the slimmest of hope of securing home-ice advantage in the playoffs. They are three points behind the second-place Capitals, who have played one fewer game, and five points behind the first-place Penguins, who have played one extra game.
The Sabres’ Anders Bjork scored twice, cutting the Islanders’ lead to 3-2 at 17:37 of the second period and scoring the equalizer at 10:56 of the third. He also scored the lone goal in the shootout.
"Sometimes it happens, you play teams that don’t have anything to lose and they can hang out and get behind you a little bit," said Cal Clutterbuck, whose shorthanded breakaway gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead at 9:16 of the second period. "But we’ve got to be better than that. We know that. We had our looks."
Rookie Ilya Sorokin made 28 saves while the Sabres’ Michael Houser, a 28-year-old journeyman who has played mostly in the ECHL since 2012, made 18 third-period saves in his second start. Houser made his NHL debut — and played his first game in any league since March 7, 2020 — with 34 saves in Monday’s 4-2 win.
He stopped 20 shots in Tuesday’s first period, though the Islanders tied the game at 1 at 16:25 as Josh Bailey fed Anthony Beauvillier for his fourth goal in four games. Cody Eakin, off Jeff Skinner’s feed after the puck took an odd bounce off the glass, had given the Sabres a 1-0 lead just 26 seconds earlier.
Trotz kept his top six defensemen in the lineup to give them a chance to bounce back from Monday’s sloppy effort. But he also expects to rest some of them over the season’s final three games.
"They were better," Trotz said. "I thought we got schooled a little bit last game in some of our one-on-ones. I don’t think you saw that tonight at all.
"I think the biggest thing for us is it’s been such a mental grind that guys are looking for a little breather. Once the playoffs start, it’s going to be another mental grind. Right now, we’re not as mentally sharp because we’ve done a lot of grinding."
Notes & quotes: Defenseman Ryan Pulock’s second goal of the season gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 3:44 of the second period…Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who missed Monday’s loss with a strain, Michael Dal Colle and Ross Johnston returned to the lineup. Johnston, in his first game since April 3, collected his first assist of the season…The Islanders finished their season series with the Sabres 6-1-1…Defenseman Adam Pelech played in his 300th career game…Bailey has six assists in his last four games…The Islanders’ 21 first-period shots were their most in any period this season…Barzal had his consecutive games streak snapped at 284, tied for the fifth longest in team history. He had played every game since the start of 2017-18.
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