Playoff-bound Islanders try to stay perfect vs. Sabres

NHL

The New York Islanders are headed to the playoffs for a third consecutive season, but first they have a chance to remain perfect against the Buffalo Sabres this season.

Coming off back-to-back shutout victories, the visiting Islanders will look for a seventh victory in as many tries this season against the Sabres (13-32-7, 33 points) on Monday night.

After being shut out twice during an 0-2-1 stretch against Washington in April, New York (31-15-5, 67 points) stepped its own defensive game by outscoring the New York Rangers 7-0 to sweep a home-and-home last week.

Anthony Beauvillier scored twice during Saturday’s 3-0 home victory over the Rangers that clinched a playoff berth in the East Division for the Islanders, who are two points behind the second-place Capitals.

It’s the first time since 2002-04 that the Islanders have made the playoffs in three straight seasons.

“We’re excited as a group,” forward Mathew Barzal, who has scored in each of the past two games, told the Islanders’ official website. “Some games here to fine-tune our game before the playoffs, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov seems to be in perfect tune while stopping all 81 shots he’s faced while going 2-0-1 in his past three starts. Varlamov, who’s stopped 106 of 107 shots in his past four outings, has gone a club-record 213 minutes, 56 seconds without yielding a goal, and his seven shutouts this season are a career high.

He’s also posted a 1.32 goals-against average, .953 save percentage and a shutout while winning six straight starts vs. Buffalo dating to the 2018-19 season. Backup Ilya Sorokin has a 1.33 GAA with a shutout while winning all three of his starts against the Sabres this season.

The Islanders have outscored Buffalo 24-9 over the six meetings in 2020-21.

The last-place Sabres have been outscored 20-8 during their current four-game skid. With Saturday’s 6-2 loss at Boston, Buffalo has dropped seven of the past nine.

“We just couldn’t, for whatever reason, get to a simple game,” interim Sabres coach Don Granato said. “That’s why I say every now and then, you have a tough day and you just look at things. It’s like, ‘Why are we complicating what should be really simple?”

Making matters worse, the Sabres’ promising young goaltender, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, suffered an apparent lower-body injury Saturday in his fourth career game. However, another rookie, center Arttu Ruotsalainen, has five goals with an assist in 13 games this season.

Teammate Casey Mittelstadt has two goals with four assists during a five-game point streak. He has two assists in two games against the Islanders.

Dustin Tokarski, who has a 4.59 goals-against average while going 0-3-0 in his past four outings, could be in the Buffalo net for this contest. He last faced New York in January 2015.

Barzal has a goal with three assists in six games vs. Buffalo this season. Beauvillier has five goals with three assists in his past six overall.

The Islanders and Sabres will conclude their season series on Tuesday night at Buffalo.

–Field Level Media

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