UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP)—Ted Nolan saw it coming.
The New York coach summed up the Islanders’ Game 4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres more than 24 hours before the teams even took the ice Wednesday night.
“Certain people get breaks in life and certain people don’t. We’re that group right now,” Nolan said after practice Tuesday.
Chris Drury, the Buffalo star who has been making big plays since his Little League championship days in Trumbull, Conn., was at it again Wednesday night, scoring twice in the top-seeded Sabres’ 4-2 victory.
And the Islanders, facing elimination in Game 5 on Friday night in Buffalo, again couldn’t get a video goal review to go their way.
Two nights after Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek was credited with a goal after a lengthy review, Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt appeared to tie it with 1:42 left in a wild scramble that left goalie Ryan Miller inside the net with the puck under him.
Referee Mike Leggo—directly behind the goal, but screened by Miller’s body — immediately waved it off, ruling Miller was pushed into the net after making the save. The decision was upheld by replay officials in Toronto.
“Rule 78.5 says after a goaltender makes a save, they can’t be pushed into the net after making the save,” Leggo said. “I deemed the puck was under him and he made the save, and then he was pushed into the net. After he was in the net, I saw the puck came loose. I didn’t see the puck until he got up, actually.”
Witt had the best view.
“The puck crossed the line before he was shoved in,” Witt said. “The camera angles show the puck was over the line before he was shoved in. … We have to put this behind us and focus on the next game. We’re fighting for our lives. They have a very good four-line team, and they’re well coached.”
Leggo planned to ask for a review, but the officials in Toronto beat him to it.
“I wanted to make sure it didn’t get shot in. That I had the right call. To make sure that he made the save and got pushed in,” Leggo said. “We have the ability to initiate a review, but in this case, it was initiated by Toronto.”
Naturally, Nolan was upset with the call that prompted fans to litter the Nassau Coliseum ice with plastic bottles and giveaway towels for the second straight game.
“I don’t care what anybody says. That was a goal,” Nolan said. “The league says it wasn’t a goal, so what can you do?”
Obviously, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff agreed with Leggo and the replay officials.
“Millsey had it covered,” Ruff said. “He was just pushed into the back of the net.”
Thirty seconds after play resumed following the call, Jason Pominville sealed it with an unassisted goal. He beat goalie Rick DiPietro from close range after fighting off defensemen Tom Poti and Marc-Andre Bergeron.
Drury, who also scored twice in Buffalo’s Game 1 victory, made it 3-2 with a power-play goal 39 seconds into the second period. He scored from the slot off his own rebound after DiPietro and Poti failed to control the puck.
“Ricky made a great toe save and the rebound just found its way to me through a bunch of sticks and bodies,” Drury said.
Drury has two game-winning goals in the series and 14 in 102 career playoff games.
“For whatever reason, pucks seem to find people like Chris,” Ruff said.
Vanek also scored, and Miller made 24 saves for the NHL regular-season champions.
“Believe me, it’s been two hard-fought games,” Ruff said. “They’ve been battling. They’ve done a pretty decent job of defending us.”
“We have to come out and play a great game Friday night.” DiPietro said. “They’re a great team and they’re smelling blood.”
The Islanders also were upset about a call late in the first period on a hit that sidelined Blake for most of the second. Blake crashed headfirst into the boards after contact from behind with Teppo Numminen, but Numminen was given a minor penalty for boarding instead of a major and game misconduct for checking from behind.
“If that wasn’t a hit from behind, I don’t know what is,” Nolan said.
The Islanders did take advantage of the power play, tying it at 2 on Sillinger’s goal with 16 seconds left in the first.
The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 1993. In their previous two playoff appearances, against Ottawa in 2003 and Tampa Bay in 2004, they split on the road and dropped two at home en route to five-game eliminations—the same scenario they face against the Sabres.
“We’ll just go up to Buffalo and see what happens,” Nolan said. “They’re a Presidents’ Cup team. They’re built to win the Stanley Cup.”
After Blake opened the scoring, Vanek and Drury scored in a 1:48 span midway through the first to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead. … The Sabres also won three of the four regular-season meetings against New York. … Game 6, if necessary, will be Sunday night at the Coliseum.