Though the New York Islanders have ensured the end of their playoff drought, they don’t exactly appear to be heading into the postseason on a roll.
They’ll get once more chance to pick up some momentum Friday night as they finish a five-game road trip against the Buffalo Sabres in both teams’ regular-season finale.
New York has fared well recently in Buffalo, winning four of the last five meetings there, including a 4-0 victory Feb. 23.
The Islanders (24-17-6) played excellent hockey for most of the last month, going 11-1-2 from March 24-April 20 to punch their ticket to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. But some may wonder if they’re getting complacent with the last two games ending in defeats against non-playoff teams.
New York followed a shootout loss at Carolina on Tuesday with a 2-1 defeat at Philadelphia on Thursday. John Tavares was perhaps the lone positive for the Islanders, scoring his fourth goal in four games and 28th of the season.
Thursday was the first time since March 30 the Islanders failed to record a point.
“We came out flat again,” forward Colin McDonald said. “It’s just not good enough. We need to be better. It really doesn’t matter that we clinched the playoffs. It doesn’t really mean anything. We want to be going into the playoffs playing good hockey, so we have one game left to kind of correct it and head into the playoffs with a good feeling.”
Though the Sabres (20-21-6) are already guaranteed to miss the playoffs for a second straight season, they’ve won four of six and are coming off Tuesday’s 4-2 victory at Pittsburgh. Buffalo has accounted for two of the defeats by the Eastern Conference’s top seed during the Penguins’ current 22-3-0 run.
“Obviously we wanted to be in the playoffs, but that’s not going to happen. But guys want to make sure they finish strong,” coach Ron Rolston said.
The Sabres’ power play has clicked well recently, scoring six times on its last 14 chances - a 42.9 percent success rate compared to 14.4 on the season.
Should Ryan Miller start in goal, it would be his 500th career appearance, and speculation has swirled that it could be his last with Buffalo. Miller has one year remaining on his contract but is one of the most enviable assets on a team that may be in rebuilding mode moving forward.
“There’s been a lot of could-be last games as a Sabre the last few years,” said Miller, whose 2.87 goals-against average is his worst since becoming Buffalo’s No. 1 netminder in 2005-06. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment. I’ll approach it the same way I’ve approached the other 499 - just put the pads on and try to do your best.
“I don’t know which way it’s going to go, so I’m not going to talk like I’m gone.”
Miller stopped 41 shots as Buffalo won the season’s first meeting, 3-2 on Feb. 9 on Long Island.