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Preview: Islanders at Sabres

New York must pursue wild-card spot without injured John Tavares; Rasmus Ristolainen returns for Buffalo

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

ISLANDERS (36-29-12) at SABRES (32-33-12)

3 p.m. ET; SN, MSG-B, MSG+, NHL.TV

Islanders team scope

The New York Islanders are seven points behind the Ottawa Senators for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with five games left to play, and will be without center John Tavares on Sunday. Tavares sustained a lower-body injury against the New Jersey Devils on Friday and will be out week to week. "It's a big blow anytime you see your best player go down," coach Doug Weight said Friday. "These guys have been around. Injuries happen. It's not fun, but it gives somebody a chance." Tavares, the Islanders captain, leads New York in scoring with 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists). The Islanders recalled forward Connor Jones from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on Saturday to take Tavares' place on the roster, and Jones could make his NHL debut. Jones has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 56 games with Bridgeport this season.


Sabres team scope

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will return to the lineup after serving a three-game suspension for a hit against Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel on March 21. "I got good rest, I worked out well, a good couple of practices, and I'm ready to go," Ristolainen said Saturday. "It felt like a month." Buffalo will again be without right wing Kyle Okposo because of an illness; he was a late scratch for a 3-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. "The status of Kyle is he's sick and ill right now," coach Dan Bylsma said, "and hasn't really recovered from it at this point in time, so he's just under the weather." With Okposo out, forward C.J. Smith is expected to make his NHL debut. Smith was signed out of UMass Lowell on Thursday after completing his junior season, when he had 51 points (23 goals, 28 assists) in 41 games. "I like to play just a tenacious game, so if whatever happens, I'm just going to go out there, compete, and play hard," Smith said.


Islanders projected lineup

Anders Lee -- Brock Nelson -- Josh Bailey

Andrew Ladd -- Alan Quine -- Jason Chimera

Shane Prince -- Anthony Beauvillier -- Joshua Ho-Sang

Stephen Gionta -- Connor Jones -- Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy -- Johnny Boychuk

Calvin de Haan -- Dennis Seidenberg

Thomas Hickey -- Adam Pelech

Jaroslav Halak

Thomas Greiss

Scratched: Jean-Francois Berube, Scott Mayfield

Injured: John Tavares (lower body), Travis Hamonic (upper body), Ryan Strome (upper body), Nikolay Kulemin (upper body), Casey Cizikas (upper body)


Sabres projected lineup

Evander Kane -- Ryan O'Reilly -- Tyler Ennis

Marcus Foligno -- Jack Eichel -- Sam Reinhart

C.J. Smith -- Evan Rodrigues -- Brian Gionta

William Carrier -- Zemgus Girgensons -- Matt Moulson

Jake McCabe -- Rasmus Ristolainen

Dmitry Kulikov -- Zach Bogosian

Josh Gorges -- Justin Falk

Robin Lehner

Anders Nilsson

Scratched: Nicolas Deslauriers

Injuries: Kyle Okposo (illness), Taylor Fedun (upper body), Cody Franson (undisclosed), Johan Larsson (wrist)


Status report

The Islanders did not practice Saturday. … Franson skated in practice Saturday and is hoping to return Monday against the Maple Leafs.


Who's hot

Eichel has five points (two goals, three assists) in his past three games and 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in his past 16 games. … O'Reilly has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his past 15 games.

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