BUFFALO - It quite certainly was the least satisfying point the Islanders have earned this season.
They coughed up a three-goal lead over the struggling Sabres, allowing three goals in a 5:12 span in the third period, before falling in a shootout for the first time in seven sessions this season.
The 4-3 loss marked the third time in the last nine games that the Islanders blew a three-goal lead, but this one felt different: They completely controlled the game through two periods and a bit, and the breakdowns that led to the three goals were puzzling.
"It's a game we should have had, obviously," said John Tavares, who, in one of his more forceful games of the season, scored his 14th and 15th goals to give the Islanders a 3-0 lead after two periods. "It was really more what we did to lose the lead than anything they did."
Tavares was on the ice for the Sabres' icebreaker against Kevin Poulin, who got the start over regular backup Chad Johnson with Jaroslav Halak (lower body) placed on injured reserve. A harmless toss to the front of the net pinballed off a few hesitant Islanders and right to Nicolas Deslauriers, who snapped a shot past Poulin at 6:39 to make it 3-1.
With the Islanders on the power play a short time later, Zemgus Girgensons took a perfect pass from Deslauriers on a breakout, and with Johnny Boychuk draped on him, he beat Poulin with a wrist shot, pumping up the home crowd and pulling the Sabres within 3-2.
"Special teams were big again," lamented Jack Capuano, who shuffled his power-play units a bit but still saw his team drop to 1-for-19 with the man advantage in the past seven games, plus give up a shorthanded goal for the first time this season.
Capuano called a timeout to snap his team back to controlling play, but things went further south. Drew Stafford stepped out of the penalty box and fed Chris Stewart on a seemingly well-defended two-on-two rush. Stewart made a very deep cut to the front of the net, Poulin stayed back rather than try to disrupt him, and he tucked a backhand through Poulin's legs at 11:51.
Those were the only three Sabres shots on Poulin during that span, and you'd be hard-pressed to say they were all good scoring chances.
"They scored one and they regained life a little bit," said Poulin, who made his season debut and finished with 23 saves. "We should've closed the door."
Ryan Strome hit the crossbar in overtime and Tyler Ennis scored the only goal in the shootout, but the Islanders ultimately lost because of their own mistakes and Jhonas Enroth's 33 saves, plus three in the shootout.
Capuano and his players were not overly hard on themselves after the game, feeling that the good the Islanders showed outweighed the ugly blown lead.
They will face the streaking Capitals, who are five points behind them in the Metropolitan Division, on Monday night at the Coliseum.
"We want to make sure moving forward that we remember we did a lot of good things," Capuano said. "You can't let the [negativity] seep in. We have to make sure we keep our focus mentally in a game like that."