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Islanders top Sabres in season-ending shootout

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Brock Nelson scored the tying goal late in regulation, then had the only goal in the shootout to give the New York Islanders a 4-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Sunday night.

Nelson beat Sabres rookie goalie Connor Knapp (22 saves) between the pads in the second round for the only goal in the tiebreaker to give the Islanders (34-37-11) their third consecutive victory.

"We knew we had a young group and a lot of rookies were dressed in the lineup playing hard," said Nelson, one of 11 first-year players in the Islanders' lineup. We wanted to go out there and give it everything we had every night and I think we were able to do that, and it showed and we got the three wins."

The Islanders ended the season by winning three straight road games, the last two coming via shootout. Nelson's goal, a long wrist shot with 3:44 remaining in the third period, sent the game into overtime.

"We're trying to get pucks on net, and I tried to use that [defenseman] as a screen," Nelson said. "[Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov] always bugs me here and there to shoot high glove and shoot hard and that was one of those times it went in."

Another New York rookie, Anders Nilsson, made 36 stops through 65 minutes and denied all three Buffalo shooters in the tiebreaker, ending the game by foiling Ville Leino.

The injury-plagued Sabres finished with 150 non-shootout goals in 82 games, setting a post-expansion era record for fewest goals scored in a season. Buffalo ended the season with a 21-51-10 record and a League-low 52 points.

"I'm a strong believer in laying a foundation," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "If you [don't have] a foundation, your house is going to crumble. [Sabres GM] Timmy [Murray] and I will have a good chance to really evaluate what we've got coming back and what we need ... in order to make sure we get on the right foot again."

Torrey Mitchell scored 9:51 into the third period to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead. Mitchell tipped a shot from Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen past Nilsson for his second goal of the season and first with the Sabres, bringing the crowd of 18,804 to its feet.

"[Nolan] came in after the game and said, 'You should appreciate that,'" Sabres forward Tyler Ennis said. "Mark my words, we're going to win one for these people one day because it's awesome they come out for a last-place team last game of the year and cheer that hard. It's nice and we appreciate that."

Jamie McBain gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead at 10:27 of the first period. McBain skated with the puck out of his own end through the Islanders' defense and beat Nilsson to the far side with a wrist shot for his sixth goal of the season.

"For him to do that it was a nice goal and a nice way to finish off the season," Nolan said. "Hopefully that will carry him through the summertime and see what he can do maybe on a consistent basis."

Knapp, who made his first NHL start, earned the only assist on the goal.

"I handled myself well in a strange situation," said Knapp, who made his NHL debut on Saturday after Matt Hackett was injured in a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. "I feel like I've developed quite a bit this year playing in the minors. That's one of the downfalls of being in the [ECHL] is you're probably not seen as much by the organization. But it was definitely good to get here, get some exposure and show them how much I've improved."

Matt Ellis made it 2-0 at 7:23 of the second period when he backhanded a centering pass from forward Marcus Foligno past Nilsson for his fourth goal of the season. Ellis shook off Islanders forward John Persson and got enough of a stick on the puck to get it past Nilsson. Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe got the second assist for his first NHL point.

The Islanders cut into the lead with 3:23 left in the second when Anders Lee scored a power-play goal. Lee batted the puck past Knapp after Frans Nielsen's pass from behind the net popped in the air and landed in the crease.

"You know he can score goals," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Obviously there are some things he's improved on since the last time he was here and like everybody else, there are still some things he can improve on as we move forward. But he's got a big frame and a big body and he gets in those dirty areas and that's the one thing up front that we're looking for."

Lee tied the game 17 seconds into the third period with his second goal of the game and ninth of the season. The rookie forward skated up the right wing and fired a backhand shot past Knapp.

"I think it's difficult for a lot of goalies because it's not our primary way of shooting and a lot of times it comes off not even the way we want it to go and it's hard to read," Lee said. "I think that's what could've happened tonight."

The three season-ending wins couldn't erase a disappointing season for the Islanders, who failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs after doing so last season. However, Capuano was pleased with the way his young players competed to the very end.

"These guys battled and got three wins on the road trip," said. "I told them after the game I was proud of the way they battled for one another and there will be a lot of healthy competition moving forward."

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