Rookie goalies Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin combined to stop 36 shots and first-year forward Michael Grabner scored two more goals as the Isles won 5-2 at Buffalo, the second time they've beaten the Sabres in seven days.
The Sabres, desperate for points as they try to make the playoffs after a slow start, were their own worst enemies, with turnovers and other mistakes costing them. The loss kept them with 47 points, seven behind eighth-place Atlanta, and came one night after the Sabres went into Boston and beat the red-hot Bruins 4-2, giving them a 7-2-1 mark in their previous 10 games.
In contrast, the Islanders had been 1-4-1 in their last six -- and that win was last Saturday's 5-3 victory against the Sabres on Long Island, where the teams meet again on Sunday afternoon.
The question is who will be in goal for the Islanders. Starter Rick DiPietro didn't make the trip due to illness. Lawson stopped all 10 shots he faced in the first period before leaving with a left knee injury and will be re-examined on Saturday. Poulin stepped in and stopped 26 shots, allowing only a pair of third-period goals to Nathan Gerbe in a five-second span.
But by then, the Isles were enjoying a 4-0 lead -- with plenty of help from the Sabres.
"It's embarrassing," said Gerbe, who wasn't in any mood to talk about his two goals.
Grabner opened the scoring 7:26 into the game when his pass from the end board caromed off Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers and into the net -- the first time in nine games the Islanders scored first. The play started when Myers gave away the puck behind his own net.
"Our starts were real slow the last couple of weeks," Grabner said. "We wanted to get the first goal and play with the lead for once and have the other team scramble back."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff replaced Ryan Miller with Patrick Lalime, and the Sabres didn't allow a shot the rest of the period. But they were unable to cash in on three power plays in the opening 20 minutes.
"I didn't like the start of the game, not at all," Ruff said, noting the Sabres were down 2-0 while being outshot 10-3 before the game was 11 minutes old. "I didn't like our first shift. It wasn't good enough."
Lawson injured his knee in a collision late in the period, and with DiPietro back on Long Island, the Isles brought on Poulin, who kept the Sabres at bay until another Buffalo mistake led to the Isles' third goal. John Tavares picked off Mike Weber's pass in the Buffalo zone and slipped a quick pass to PA Parenteau for a 10-footer that beat Lalime at 14:35.
"Parenteau's goal was a big one for us," interim coach Jack Capuano said.
It became 4-0 with 5:25 left in regulation when the desperate Sabres got caught on a 2-on1 rush and Isles defenseman Jack Hillen knocked in his own rebound.
Gerbe's backhander past Poulin with 3:32 left broke up the shutout, and he connected again just five seconds later to give the sellout crowd at HSBC Arena some hope.
"It's too bad, but it's going to happen," Poulin said of failing to finish the shutout. "They worked hard and didn't give up."
The 5-second span matched Pete Mahovlich for the third-fastest goals by a player in NHL history. Mahovlich did for Montreal in 1971. The record is 4 seconds, set by the Montreal Maroons' Nels Stewart in 1931 and matched by Winnipeg's Deron Quint in 1995.
But just seven seconds after his second goal, Gerbe was called for slashing, and the Sabres also took a bench minor for too many men with 1:23 left, allowing Grabner to score an empty-netter with two seconds left -- his fifth goal in four games.
"Before I was thinking too much," said Grabner, who will take part in the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition at All-Star Weekend. "Now I'm just shooting."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report