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Sabres begin seven-game trip on Long Island

by Matthew Mankiewich

SABRES (19-19-5) at ISLANDERS (15-20-6)


Last 10: Buffalo 3-5-2, New York 4-6-0

Season Series: It's the second game of four, and the Sabres' first visit of the season to Long Island. The Isles won 2-1 in Buffalo on Nov. 29 thanks to Brian Rolston's game-winning goal. The Isles took three of four last season, ending three straight years of splits. Buffalo's last outright series win came in 2006-07, when the Sabres took three of four.

Big Story: Both teams need wins any way they can get them right now. The Islanders find themselves back in the Eastern Conference cellar thanks to yet another loss to the Flyers, and are 12 points out of a playoff spot. The Sabres are five back thanks to their strong start and a 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs on Friday, but need to start playing more consistent hockey to make any significant progress, especially on the road where they've lost seven straight in regulation and are beginning a seven-game road trip.

Team Scope:

Sabres: It had been one of those peculiar winter traditions. Sabres play Leafs, Sabres win. At one point, it had grown to a 29-8-1 run against the cross-border rivals. But just as this winter has been relatively mild so far, the climate changed in the rivalry. The Leafs went into First Niagara Center Friday night the winners of five of the previous six meetings, including two of three this season.

The weekend forecast by the lake called for more traditional winter weather, and the atmosphere inside reverted to something more familiar as the Sabres got early goals by Matt Ellis and Paul Gaustad. But Mikhail Grabovski and Joey Crabb replied to make it 2-2 after one period. It took Jason Pominville's wrist shot late in the second and a 24-save performance by Ryan Miller to seal a 3-2 win. The victory snapped an 0-2-1 stretch and was only their third in 12 games (3-7-2).

"We'll take anything right now," Miller said. "In this League, I don't think you can could too many teams out. You have to stick with it and have an attitude that, if bad things happen, you have to rise above it and keep competing. I thought we did a good job of that tonight.

"Coming out with a win after going through a little bit of adversity -- I think that's a good thing for the guys."

Islanders: Another winter tradition continues on Long Island, and the weather has little to do with it. On-ice performance doesn't seem to have much impact on it either as by most indications the Isles played better than the Flyers on Thursday night. Sergei Bobrovsky made sure that didn't matter as he held off a 31-shot Islander attack while preserving a 3-2 win, extending the Isles' record of Philadelphia futility to 1-18-5 over their last 24 meetings.

"It's frustrating for the guys," Isles coach Jack Capuano said. "This is one that I really thought we played well. We came out slow in the first five or six minutes and didn't generate what we wanted to generate. But after that, I thought we played extremely well."

Who's Hot: Gaustad assisted on Buffalo's opening goal Friday and scored the second for his first points since New Year's Eve (four games). Pominville has five points in his last five games, He and Thomas Vanek have scored 12 of the Sabres' 34 goals in their last 16 games. … All-Star John Tavares scored a goal in the closing seconds Thursday to extend his points streak to seven games, during which he has four goals and 13 points.

Injury Report: The news broke Friday evening that Isles goalie Rick DiPietro will undergo sports hernia surgery next week, putting him out of action until April at the earliest and making a return this season unlikely. "This is something I thought would just heal up and go away, and instead it got more and more debilitating," a somber DiPietro told Newsday. "I'm almost bionic at this point."

Meanwhile, goalie Al Montoya (concussion) inches closer to a return, though defenseman Mike Mottau (concussion) has yet to start skating again. … Sabres rookie defenseman Brayden McNabb left the game Friday with about 12 minutes left and did not return. Tyler Ennis (ankle), Colin Stuart (knee) and Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) remain out indefinitely.

Stat Pack: Prior to their three-goal performance on Friday, the Sabres had scored 11 goals in their previous seven games. … Pominville has 22 points in 23 career games against the Islanders, while Tavares has 11 points in nine career games versus Buffalo. Linemate Matt Moulson has 10 points in those nine games.

Puck Drop: Hours before Thursday game, Tavares was named to play in the All-Star Game in Ottawa on Jan. 29. The first player picked in the 2009 NHL Draft has become an offensive force and at 21 continues to improve by leaps and bounds. He's strong on the puck, wins battles down low and shows every sign of becoming the elite player the Islanders expected him to be when they drafted him.

"I've felt I've gotten better every year, every game," Tavares said. "I feel like I'm just getting to know the League a lot better. I feel my game is evolving -- just me as a person -- and I think it's all translating every day and coming together year, every day. It's another step for me. It's exciting to know when you're recognized like this, you know you're doing some good things and you know you're making an impact out there. That's what I'm trying to do."

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