BUFFALO — Rather than lament another moral victory, Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel was able to enjoy an actual one that counts in the standings.
Eichel set up two goals to spark an opportunistic offense, and goalie Linus Ullmark stopped 24 shots — including all 10 in the third period — in an efficient 3-1 win over the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders on Tuesday night.
“You’ve got to stay patient against a team like that,” Eichel said of an Islanders’ opponent that entered the game allowing a league-low 133 goals. “We just matched their intensity.”
The win followed a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg on Sunday in which Eichel refused to acknowledge how well the Sabres played in a game decided in the final four minutes.
Rather than let down after allowing the Islanders to tie the game at 1 on Casey Cizikas’ goal in the final minute of the first period, the Sabres responded.
Jason Pominville scored the go-ahead goal 6:49 into the second period by crashing the net and redirecting Eichel’s backhand centering pass from the left wing.
Ullmark then played a big role in preserving the one-goal lead before Johan Larsson swept in a loose puck to seal the win with 2:25 remaining.
Jeff Skinner, set up off Eichel’s faceoff win, scored his team-leading 34th and the Sabres improved to 3-2-1 six games into a seven-game homestand.
Overall, Buffalo improved to 28-21-7 and picked up its 63rd point. That’s one more than last season, when the Sabres became the NHL’s first franchise to finish 31st following the addition of expansion Vegas.
Buffalo also stayed a point behind ninth-place Carolina and inched to within two of idle Pittsburgh in the race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff berth.
Robin Lehner stopped 19 shots against his former team, and the Islanders had a three-game winning streak snapped while losing in regulation for just the second time in 13 games (9-2-2).
Forward Matt Martin credited the Sabres’ forechecking style for knocking the Islanders off their game through the first two periods.
“When we start playing cute, we don’t have a whole lot of success,” said Martin, who set up Cizikas’ goal after Cal Clutterbuck capitalized on Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s turnover deep in Buffalo’s end.
“For two periods tonight we didn’t play the brand of hockey we’re used to and it cost us,” Martin added. “We were better in the third, but that’s too little, too late then.”
Ullmark made a big difference with two highlight-reel saves in the final period.
First, he did the splits to get his right pad down to stop Mathew Barzal in front, seven minutes into the period. Then with 7:13 left, Ullmark punched out his blocker to foil Cal Clutterbuck’s backhander on a breakaway attempt.
“It’s very gratifying,” said Ullmark, who improved to 3-0-1 in his past four.