ELMONT, N.Y. — Casey Cizikas tipped Adam Pelech’s wrist shot from the point over the glove of goaltender Devon Levi with 6:20 left in regulation to lift the New York Islanders to a season-opening 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at UBS Arena.
The goal stood after a lengthy review as the Sabres challenged whether or not defenseman Noah Dobson’s entry into the Buffalo zone was offside while the league looked at whether or not Cizikas’ stick was too high on the redirection.
“We were holding our breath there on the bench a little bit,” Cizikas said. “[Dobson] made a really good play to keep control of it and keeping that play alive.”
The fourth-liner’s quick hands salvaged the full two points for the Islanders (1-0-0), who squandered a 2-0 first-period lead to a Sabres team that dominated the middle portion of the night to tie the game through Casey Middelstadt just 2:34 into the third period.
“It’s nice, I’m not going to lie, it’s nice,” Cizikas said. We put a lot of hard work in and to get rewarded, it means a lot.”
But it was the Islanders’ second line that took a stranglehold on the game early.
Brock Nelson snagged his and the Islanders’ first goal of the new season as the newly-appointed alternate captain showed off his now-patented deadly wrist shot that beat Levi under the glove just 5:57 into the game.
The opportunity was created by Pierre Engvall, who outrushed Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton for a rolling puck meandering toward the Buffalo blue line. A stick lift and a power spin created a two-on-one opportunity headed by Nelson, who kept it himself and fired it home.
“We got a few turnovers just like that one,” Nelson said of his line’s performance. “Couple plays down low and tight spaces and made some chances… we had quite a few good looks.”
With 1:42 to go in the first, Kyle Palmieri doubled the Islanders’ lead thanks to a well-placed foot. A shot from the right circle by Ryan Pulock was saved by Levi, but the rebound came right to Nelson, who sent the puck toward goal. After grazing the skate of Palmieri just in front of the crease, it was deflected in off Clifton’s skate as the Buffalo blueliner’s difficult night continued.
“We get three, it’s a little better, but that start was pretty good,” Nelson joked. “We did some good things.”
Jordan Greenway pulled one back for the Sabres 4:12 into the second period after an Islanders defensive breakdown allowed him to dangle his way three defenders in front of Ilya Sorokin’s goal — the netminder out of position after attempting to defend an odd-man entry — and finish a backhander through Dobson.
It was the start of a period that was dominated by the Sabres as they outshot the Islanders 14-9 in the stanza, but Sorokin proved to be New York’s most valuable asset to keep the host’s advantage intact going into the third.
But Middelstadt tied the game 2:34 into the third period as the Islanders were left running around their zone again. A puck behind Sorokin’s goal deflected off Matt Martin and through the legs of Dobson where Middelstadt waited on the right goal line. With a quick backhander, he roofed his chance over the shoulder of Sorokin to draw Buffalo level.
“We didn’t crumble after that goal,” Cizikas said. “We kept pushing, we got better as the period went on, and we were able to come up with two points.”
The Islanders finally found their footing midway through the final frame and began to sustain pressure on the Sabres. Dobson backed his way into the attacking zone with the puck dangling on his stick to begin the move that led to Pelech’s wrister from the point that was tipped home by Cizikas — an action the league deemed as full possession from the Islanders blueliner to not overturn the goal.
“I kind of had an idea that it was close,” Dobson said. “It was kind of an awkward play… IT was good to get that break. [Pelech] made a great shot and it was a great tip by [Cizikas].”
Sorokin would finish with 26 saves on the night.