The Buffalo Sabres will try to record consecutive victories for only the second time this season when they visit the sliding New York Islanders for Saturday's meeting at Nassau Coliseum.
The Sabres began the campaign with back-to-back wins over Philadelphia and Toronto, but then dropped seven of their next eight games. Buffalo was able to halt a three-game slide on Thursday, pulling off a comeback win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
Thomas Vanek scored a pair of third-period goals, including one with 1.9 seconds left, and Jason Pominville notched the deciding goal in the shootout to lift the Sabres to a 5-4 win over the Habs.
Vanek also scored in the first round of the shootout for the Sabres. Tyler Ennis added a goal and two assists, while Steve Ott had a goal and an assist. Ryan Miller made 28 saves for the win.
Trailing by two, 4-2, Vanek put his team on his back with a pair of late strikes. The first came on the power play after Montreal's Ryan White was given a four-minute roughing penalty. Vanek gathered a rebound in front and beat Peter Budaj with a backhander at 7:57.
Vanek's game-tying goal came in the dying seconds of regulation. A mad scramble for the puck took place in front of Budaj, and Vanek managed to poke the disc across the goal line past a mass of bodies. The goal was upheld following a review with 1.9 seconds to go.
"That is a huge goal by Vanek," Ennis said. "He was rewarded, he had a lot of chances tonight and he's staying hot."
Vanek has exploded out of the gate this season, posting 10 goals and 21 points in his first 10 games. Both his goal and point totals are currently tops in the NHL.
The Islanders, meanwhile, are anything but hot right now, having lost three straight regulation decisions after a strong 4-2-1 start to the season. New York has scored a total of three goals during its three-game slide and is coming off Thursday's 4-1 setback to the rival New York Rangers.
John Tavares netted the lone goal on Thursday for the Islanders, while Evgeni Nabokov stopped 21-of-24 attempts in the setback.
"It seems like sometimes we are satisfied to be in close games, but there's enough talent in here to work hard and win games," said Nabokov. "We need to start better, and that starts with me and it goes along the line with everybody. That's the bottom line."
The Isles made headlines prior to Thursday's game by acquiring the rights to idle goaltender Tim Thomas in a trade with the Boston Bruins. New York sent a conditional future second-round choice for the 38-year-old former Vezina Trophy winner, who is currently sitting out the season in order to spend time with his family in Colorado.
The Bruins will receive the pick only if Thomas reports to his new team, but that's not expected to happen. In reality, it appears the Islanders made this trade solely for financial reasons. According to several sources, New York needed to reach the salary-cap floor of $53 million, and Thomas' "35-plus" contract, which includes a cap hit of $5 million pro-rated for this truncated season, will help satisfy that requirement regardless of whether or not Thomas actually plays.
While Thomas isn't expected to suit up for the Isles anytime soon, the club is expecting to finally have defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky in the lineup on Saturday.
Visnovsky, acquired by the Isles in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks in June, had been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League during the NHL lockout and intended to remain with his Slovan Bratislava team for the remainder of the 2012-13 season. The NHL and KHL have an agreement in place, however, that states that any player under contract in North America had to return once the work stoppage had ended.
The Islanders immediately suspended Visnovsky, who finally arrived in the United States on Wednesday night and passed a team physical on Thursday. He was reinstated to the active roster and expects to play on Saturday.
"It's up to the coach, but I'm ready to play," Visnovsky said on Friday. "If he gives me the chance, I'll be very happy. The big challenge for me is to help this team and show everybody that this is a playoff team. I'm playing for the playoffs. We have a big game tomorrow and I have a lot to prove."
The Slovakia native had 18 goals and a career-best 68 points with the Ducks in 2010-11 and has accumulated 117 goals and 450 points over 771 career NHL games.
The Islanders have won six of the last nine meetings against Buffalo overall and five of the previous seven encounters at Nassau Coliseum.