Michael Grabner has used the last month to make a case for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. On Sunday afternoon, he strengthened the argument.
Grabner, who was waived by the Florida Panthers in October, capped a three-goal game by scoring with 2:05 left in overtime in leading the injury- and suspension-depleted New York Islanders to a come-from-behind 7-6 win against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena.
"I don't really care about that," Grabner said about joining the Rookie of the Year conversations. "I'm not looking into the stats. I'm just trying to do my role here, play my game and try to improve and help the team get some wins."
John Tavares, Blake Comeau, Milan Jurcina and Ty Wishart also scored for an Islanders team that won its third straight and showed it still had some offensive punch left after a brawl-filled 9-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.
Kyle Okposo had four assists for the Islanders, who rallied from a 4-2 second-period deficit.
Okposo set up the winning goal, hitting Grabner on the fly at the Sabres' blue line. With a step on defender Andrej Sekera, Grabner snapped a shot beating Ryan Miller just inside the left post.
It was Grabner's 15th goal in his last 14 games and moved him into a tie with San Jose forward Logan Couture for the most goals (24) among NHL rookies.
"I had something kind of like this in juniors, but this is obviously more special," Grabner said of his offensive outburst. "I think I'm getting a little more comfortable. In the beginning of the year, I was a little too nervous and gripping the stick a little too tight."
Drew Stafford scored three times for the Sabres, who had a season-best three-game win streak snapped. For Stafford, it was his league-leading fourth three-goal game of the season and second in three outings. Tyler Ennis had three assists, while Jochen Hecht, Tyler Myers and Nathan Gerbe also scored for Buffalo.
Miller struggled, allowing seven goals on just 26 shots.
"Give me a break, they scored goals," Miller said, after being asked how he felt. "I'm just frustrated."
The Islanders had goaltending troubles of their own as starter Mikko Koskinen was chased after allowing four goals on 14 shots. Al Montoya earned the win, stopping 12 shots in his first NHL appearance since April 2009.
The Islanders won a day after the NHL suspended Trevor Gillies (nine games) and Matt Martin (four), and fined the team $100,000 for failing to control its players against the Penguins in a game that produced 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts.
Injuries have also decimated the Islanders' lineup as they remain down numerous regulars, including starting goalie Rick DiPietro (facial fractures), captain Doug Weight (back) and alternate captain Mark Streit (shoulder). Comeau, meanwhile, returned after missing four games with a concussion.
"The guys battled," Isles interim coach Jack Capuano said. "I thought there could be a little bit of a letdown. We didn't know how they were going to come out. It was a seesaw game at the start, but we found a way to get it done and that's what counts."
Through all that adversity, the Isles proved feisty in a back-and-forth game that featured three lead changes, and had the Sabres forced to rally back after they led 4-2 on Gerbe's goal that chased Koskinen 4:31 into the second period.
New York rallied back, and won for only the second time this season (2-20-2) when trailing after 40 minutes.
"It's no secret, Miller had a tough night," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who also wasn't happy with his team's defensive play. "I thought we could've been better, too."
Trailing 5-4, the Islanders capitalized on a 5-on-3 advantage to take the lead on a pair of power-play goals scored 1:16 apart.
Jurcina one-timed a shot from the left circle to tie it at 5, and then Wishart had his wrister from the point deflect off a crowd in front and dribble in past Miller, who whiffed in his attempt to glove the puck with 7:12 remaining.
"We've got three lines that can score right now," Isles forward PA Parenteau said. "Grabner's on fire. You can't really stop him. We're making good plays and we're making stuff happen on the ice. I think we're a pretty dangerous team offensively right now."
Stafford responded by scoring 31 seconds later, converting a rebound in off the right post after Montoya was left out of position after stopping Jordan Leopold's point shot.
"We need all the points we can get here," Stafford said. "It's good we got at least one. But it's not good enough when we weren't tight enough defensively."
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.