The New York Islanders forged ahead without John Tavares on Sunday afternoon, keeping their playoff hopes alive with a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center.
With Tavares out, the Islanders new top line of Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang stepped up, with Lee netting two goals while Ho-Sang also potted one. Lee scored both of his goals in the third period, breaking open a 2-2 tie and leading the Islanders to the win.
"They dug deep," Interim Coach Doug Weight said. "It was a great battle and found a way to get the big goal. Lee has been doing it all year for us. It's a big win and we need to keep winning."
Video: NYI@BUF: Lee gives Isles the lead with tricky wrister
With the win, the Islanders (86 points) kept their playoff hopes alive, as they sit five points back of the Ottawa Senators (91 points) for the second Wild Card. The Senators have five games remaining to the Islanders four, but Ottawa is not in action on Sunday night.
The Islanders never trailed in Sunday's affair, with Cal Clutterbuck getting the Isles out to a 1-0 lead in the first. Clutterbuck beat Robin Lehner short-side glove with a quick snap from outside the right dot. The goal was Clutterbuck's second in three games after busting out of a goal drought against the Flyers on Thursday.
Video: NYI@BUF: Clutterbuck goes upstairs to beat Lehner
The Sabres outshot the Islanders 9-0 to start the second period, with Evander Kane tying the game 1-1 at 10:08, but the Islanders responded less than a minute later. Dennis Seidenberg worked the puck to Ho-Sang who took off on a breakaway and deked Robin Lehner with a nice backhand-forehand move to restore the lead at 11:04.
Buffalo came out with another strong start in the third period, outshooting the Islanders 8-1 before Zemgus Girgensons backhanded a Matt Moulson feed past Halak at 5:17. The Islanders didn't get an immediate response - despite a Ho-Sang and Beauvillier two-on-one - but did retake the lead four minutes later, with Lee burying his 30th of the season at 9:19.
Lee was the beneficiary of a good bounce, as Lehner swatted a puck into the high slot right to Lee, who snuck a wrister under Lehner's arm. Lee got another friendly bounce for his 31st of the season, as Jake McCabe misfired on a pass that the Isles leading goal scorer backhanded through Lehner's five-hole at 14:33.
"Sometimes you get the bounces and they went our way in the third period there," Lee said. "When you lose a player like Johnny you have to keep it simple and play north-south and for the most part we did that tonight."
Jaroslav Halak made 35 saves for the win, while Lehner stopped 22 in the loss.
Video: NYI@BUF: Lee converts turnover for second of the game
LEE SCORES 30 GOALS:
Anders Lee hit the 30-goal milestone for the first time in his career on Sunday, as he continues his career-year.
"It's pretty incredible," Lee said. "You always set your goals to improve on prior seasons and continue to become a better player, but you have to get plenty of breaks and play with some great players all season and the chemistry that we've had has benefited me a lot. I think 30 says a lot about our offense as a whole and Johnny and Bails and the guys I've played with throughout the season. Credit to them and fortunate for me."
CONNOR JONES MAKES NHL DEBUT:
Connor Jones made his NHL debut on Sunday afternoon, stepping into the Islanders lineup after being recalled from Bridgeport on Saturday. Jones skated 11:33 on a line centering Stephen Gionta and Cal Clutterbuck, recording two shots and three hits. Jones had two good looks for his first NHL goal, hitting the post with an empty net in the dying seconds of the game.
"It was an amazing day. I can't really say much else, but it's like a dream," Jones said. "Something you dream about your whole life and you're not sure if you'll get it, but the fact that it was today was monumentally special."
The Islanders head to Nashville to take on the Predators on Tuesday night. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. eastern.