UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) - When the New York Islanders’ lead was cut in half in the opening minute of the third period, the sense of impending doom began wafting through Nassau Coliseum.
After all, the Islanders had won just nine of 20 previous games in which they led after two periods. But Ryan Strome scored 39 seconds later to restore the two-goal lead, and New York cruised from there Saturday night to a 4-1 victory over the lowly Buffalo Sabres.
On a recently completed road trip, the Islanders let two-goal leads get away in the third periods of losses to Edmonton and Calgary on consecutive nights.
“When (Buffalo) got that power-play goal to start the third period, I know you guys were thinking, ‘Here we go again,’” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We battled back and we were resilient. It was a good bench. Guys were positive.”
Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo staked the Islanders to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Strome then netted the big goal to push back the Sabres, and Cal Clutterbuck sealed the win with an empty-net goal one night after New York lost 4-3 at home to San Jose.
The Islanders (26-34-9) earned their 10th home win (10-17-8), and did it in a rare matchup against an opponent they are ahead of in the standings.
“Anybody can beat anybody in this league no matter where you are,” Okposo said. “That’s been proven throughout this whole year. They’ve got some skill over there.
“We stuck with our game plan and we outplayed them.”
Backup goalie Anders Nilsson (3-4-2) earned the win in his 15th NHL game. He lost his shutout bid 56 seconds into the third when Tyler Ennis scored.
Nilsson made 33 saves while subbing for No. 1 netminder Evgeni Nabokov, who lost on Friday.
“I had the post with me one time, and I think the whole team in front of me played an unbelievable game,” said Nilsson, who will turn 24 next week. “They cleared the guys who were in front of me, so I got a clear view of every shot. That makes it a lot easier.”
Jhonas Enroth stopped 34 shots for Buffalo, which has the fewest points and goals in the NHL.
“Scoring has been our problem all season. Tonight was no different,” Enroth said. “The effort was there, but we struggle to finish.”
Earlier in this disappointing season, the Islanders and Sabres swapped star forwards Matt Moulson and Thomas Vanek, but both impending free agents have both been dealt elsewhere since.
Fans periodically voiced loud chants of “Snow Must Go,” directed toward Islanders general manager Garth Snow.
Despite being outshot 14-10 and short-handed three times in the first period, the Islanders took a 2-0 lead.
Nielsen put New York in front before the game’s first stoppage, and Okposo doubled the lead with a power-play goal.
After holding his stick in the air waiting to fire, Nielsen unleashed a hard drive from the left circle that struck Enroth’s glove and found its way in at 3:31 for his 22nd goal.
Okposo made it 2-0 with 2:36 left when he corralled a pass from Brock Nelson in the slot and whipped a shot past Enroth 1:11 into Henrik Tallinder’s holding penalty.
It was Okposo’s team-leading 27th goal and 69th point. He also helped set up Nielsen’s goal, tying him with injured captain John Tavares with a club-best 42 assists.
New York nearly had a third goal, but Enroth made a fine stop against Josh Bailey at the left post when he tried to follow up on Nelson’s wraparound attempt.
Buffalo mustered five shots during its three failed power plays in the first period. The only advantage the Sabres gave to the Islanders in the frame proved costly when Okposo scored on New York’s only shot.
The trend reversed in the second when New York had a 14-10 shots edge, but neither team scored.
Nilsson’s first scare came when he stopped a shot by Matt D’Agostini 2:13 into the second and then had to reach behind him after the puck slid through him and trickled toward the open net.
“I thought I had it, but then I heard the fans chanting a little, so I figured it was probably laying behind me,” Nilsson said. “Those things happen, but luckily it didn’t end up in the net.”
The Sabres nearly got on the board in the final two seconds of the middle frame when Drew Stafford ripped a shot off a faceoff win in the Islanders’ end during a Buffalo power play, but Nilsson was there to block it.
Ennis scored his 18th goal during that advantage.
“You can’t expect to win if you score only one goal,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We had some good looks, but we couldn’t finish.”
NOTES: Okposo is one goal shy of 100 in the NHL. … The Sabres recalled D Rasmus Ristolainen from Rochester (AHL) due to the absence of D Tyler Myers (arm), who will also likely miss Sunday’s home game against Montreal. … New York agreed to terms with 2012 draft pick D Adam Pelech on a three-year, entry-level contract.
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