PREVIEW Streaking New York Islanders open 3-game set vs. visiting Sabres

Feb 22, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) is checked by Buffalo Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju (10) and center Cody Eakin (20) during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres are well aware that victories in a 56-game regular season consisting entirely of intra-divisional games need not be pretty. But while the Islanders are racking up plenty of unspectacular wins, the Sabres can’t stop stacking losses.

The Islanders will look to remain hot Thursday night when they host the reeling Sabres in the opener of a three-game series in Uniondale, N.Y.

Both teams were off Wednesday after playing road games Tuesday.

Oliver Wahlstrom and Anders Lee scored in the third period for the Islanders, who came within seconds of recording their second straight shutout in a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. The Sabres continued skidding with a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

The win was far from perfect for the Islanders, who looked like a team playing for the third time in four nights while being outshot 20-13 in the first two periods and spending much of the second period killing off three penalties.

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But Wahlstrom snapped the scoreless tie 1:10 into the third to fuel an impressive final 20 minutes for the Islanders, who have won four of five (4-0-1) and are 9-2-2 since Feb. 6. Goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped the first 28 shots he faced before the Devils’ Miles Wood scored with 13.2 seconds left to cost New York a chance at having different goalies post shutouts in back-to-back games.

Rookie Ilya Sorokin made 20 saves in Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Eight of the Islanders’ 12 wins this season have been by two goals or fewer.

“I didn’t think we had a lot of energy tonight, the games piled up on us,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought the third we were fine — we were fine until the 6-on-5 (after the Devils pulled Aaron Dell). So other than that, I thought we managed the game. We didn’t get to our game, but we managed it pretty well.”

The Sabres snapped a scoreless drought of two-plus games but still lost their fourth straight (0-3-1) and fell to 2-7-1 since resuming play following a coronavirus pause on Feb. 15. Buffalo, which is in the midst of an NHL-worst nine-season postseason drought, has a league-low 15 points.

The Sabres, who suffered consecutive 3-0 losses to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and Sunday, have scored two goals or fewer in seven of their last eight losses and have collected 16 goals in the last 10 games. Buffalo hasn’t led since it had a pair of one-goal leads in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 25.

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“We’ve just got to find a way to put the puck in the net — that’s it,” Sabres right winger Kyle Okposo said Tuesday night. “That’s what it comes down to. This is a results-based business and I understand that playing good gets you nowhere in this industry if the results aren’t there.”

–Field Level Media