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Recap: Sabres fail to end 2018 on a high note

Eichel absent in heartbreaking home loss

NHL: New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Just hours before the 2019 ball drop, the Sabres set out to battle against the New York Islanders - and former Buffalo goaltender Robin Lehner - in search of a much needed win on home ice. Unfortunately, Sabres fans left Key Bank Center disappointed after the the final scoreboard read 3-1 in favor of New York.

Buffalo came out strong in the first period with 12 shots and a handful of missed opportunities - specifically by Tage Thompson - as well as a noteworthy save by Carter Hutton on Josh Bailey with 2:53 remaining before the first intermission. Legendary announcer Rick Jeanneret described it as “nothin’ but robbery” to keep the score at 0-0.

Jack Eichel - who was a question mark up until game time - left midway through the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return.

As the second period went underway, Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy scored his second goal of the season off a faceoff with a lucky deflection to take the lead at 1-0. Amerks’ forward C.J. Smith - making his first appearance in a Sabres jersey this year - answered back with a strong shot, but could not find the inside of the net at 3:15.

The first penalty of the game went to Sabre Zach Bogosian at 7:35 into the second period. It mattered not, though, as Hutton and the rest of the team successfully killed it.

The Sabres found themselves short-handed yet again as Jake McCabe was caught with high sticking at 11:41, but the score remained 1-0 until the second intermission. Shots on goal were almost even at 30 for New York and 27 for Buffalo.

Following the Islanders’ domination of the second period, the Sabres began the final twenty minutes of regulation with desperation. Unfortunately, a turnover by Marco Scandella in the neutral zone helped the Islanders net their second unanswered goal of the night. Hutton had the initial glove save on forward Brock Nelson, but the puck bobbled into the net giving Buffalo a two-goal deficit.

It looked as though things might turn around for the Sabres at 8:32 when Mathew Barzal went to the penalty box for slashing on Casey Mittlestadt’s ankle. Buffalo’s special teams finally came through with a surprise wristshot from Kyle Okposo at the top of the right faceoff circle at 10:14 just before the powerplay expired.

With some added pressure by the Sabres, the home club earned their second powerplay of the night at 13:07 with a tripping call on Islander Scott Mayfield. This time, they were unsuccessful with the man advantage and the score remained 2-1 until the final seconds of the game.

With 31.4 seconds remaining in the third period, the Islanders cleared the puck from their zone and, with a lucky bounce off the boards, buried an empty net goal. Ryan Pulock was credited with the goal that handed Buffalo their third straight loss.

The Sabres will look to end their losing streak this Thursday when they host the Florida Panthers at 7 p.m.