Robin Lehner won his return to Buffalo and Barry Trotz moved into fourth on the all-time NHL wins list, as the New York Islanders beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on New Year's Eve.
Lehner made 39 saves and recorded an assist as the Islanders ended 2018 with a four-game winning streak. Brock Nelson (GWG), Nick Leddy and Ryan Pulock scored for the Isles. Trotz's win was the 783rd in his NHL career.
"This was a huge win for us. We're right there in the playoff race with a couple of games in hand," Lehner said. "We need to keep climbing and try to separate and catch up. [Buffalo] was good today, so it felt really good to win tonight."
LEHNER WINS EMOTIONAL RETURN TO BUFFALO:
Emotions were swirling inside Lehner in his return to Buffalo, but it was hard to tell on the outside, as the Isles goalie was calm, cool and collected on a busy night. Lehner was playing his first game in Buffalo since joining the Islanders, but also since divulging his personal struggles with alcohol and bi-polar diagnosis.
"This one felt good," Lehner said. "I don't really know how to put it. It was probably the hardest game I've played in my career. It was a really weird feeling for me. I struggled mentally a little bit in the beginning of the game. It just felt weird, but somehow I got in the flow and our team battled really hard.
Lehner kept the Islanders afloat during an early Sabres surge and shut the door, as the Isles were outshot 13-3 in the third period. Only Kyle Okposo's power-play goal at 10:14 of the third eluded Lehner, who won his fifth-straight game. Overall, Lehner has allowed one goal or fewer in seven of his last eight games.
"Hats off to Lenny. He came to play once again tonight," Leddy said. "He made some extremely timely saves and he was our best player tonight."
The Islanders knew what Monday's game meant to Lehner and used it to galvanize themselves and keep up the energy high from an emotional win in Toronto.
"Everyone has seen what Robin has gone through personally and they see what he can do in net," Trotz said. "Everybody knows he was in Buffalo and hopefully this was sort of closure for his years in Buffalo and we're happy he's with us and playing well."
LEDDY LIGHTS THE LAMP:
Nick Leddy put the Islanders on the board 2:59 into the second period. Leddy beat Sabres goalie Carter Hutton with a point shot through traffic for his second goal of the season and first since Nov. 23.
With the primary assist on Leddy's goal, Mathew Barzal extended his point streak to five games (6G, 3A).
NELSON SCORES GWG:
Brock Nelson put the Islanders ahead 2-0 early in the third period, as his wrister was too hot for Hutton to handle, deflecting off the Sabres' goalie and in. Nelson's goal was his 13th of the season, one behind Anders Lee for the team lead.
Ryan Pulock rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal, effectively icing the game.
FILPPULA LEAVES GAME:
Valtteri Filppula (upper body) played one shift in the first period and did not return.
ISLES CLOSE OUT 2018:
The Islanders finished 2018 with a 36-35-10 record.
The Islanders return home to Nassau Coliseum to take on the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 3.