With their first playoff trip in six years already secure, the New York Islanders will try to close the regular season on a positive note when they visit the Buffalo Sabres for Friday's test at First Niagara Center.
The Islanders clinched their first playoff spot since 2007 after gaining a point in Tuesday's shootout loss against Carolina, but New York lost its first regulation game in nearly a month on Thursday, dropping a 2-1 decision in Philadelphia.
John Tavares scored the lone goal for the Islanders, giving him a team-high 28 markers on the season. New York also rested No. 1 goaltender Evgeni Nabokov on Thursday, as Kevin Poulin stopped 28 shots in his first start for the Islanders since April 2.
The Islanders had registered at least a point in its previous 11 games (8-0-3), but lost in regulation for the first time since a 2-0 defeat to Pittsburgh on March 30.
"We had a bad first period, that's it. I'm not throwing any negativity at you guys, you guys cause all this (stuff) in the world, all the negative stuff," Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said when asked if he was concerned about his club after Thursday's contest. "Our team had a bad first period, we had a good second and third period. We didn't win the special teams battle."
The Islanders, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators are all currently locked at 54 points for the final three seeds in the East. The Rangers are idle tonight ahead of their final game of the regular season on Saturday against New Jersey, while Ottawa still has two games left.
New York is closing the season on a five-game road trip and is 14-6-3 as the guest this season.
The Sabres are out of the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons and the club will close its 2012-13 campaign on Friday.
Despite missing the playoffs for a second straight spring, Buffalo has managed to record wins in four of its last six trips to the ice. The Sabres ended a two-game slide on Tuesday, recording a 4-2 win in Pittsburgh. Steve Ott netted the game-winner late in the third period to help Buffalo edge the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Thomas Vanek scored twice and added an assist, while Jochen Hecht had the other goal for the Sabres. Ryan Miller posted 40 saves in the victory.
"It's always nice to win," Miller remarked. "I thought the guys did a nice job of sticking together and playing hard."
Buffalo is 10-10-3 as the host and a win tonight will give them an above .500 record on home ice the season.
The Islanders and Sabres have split a pair of meetings this season, with each club winning a game on the road. New York has taken four of its last five in Buffalo and has claimed four of seven overall in this series.