With the playoffs approaching, it may seem troubling that the New York Islanders recently struggled through a gauntlet featuring mostly postseason contenders.
The Buffalo Sabres do not fall into that category.
New York continues its quest for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs when it hosts the NHL-worst Sabres on Saturday night.
The Islanders (45-27-6) went just 1-6-1 from March 10-28, with each loss coming against a club fighting for playoff position while the lone victory was over the eliminated New Jersey Devils.
They bounced back to beat Detroit 5-4 on Sunday before running into suddenly surging Columbus on Thursday. The Blue Jackets, who have been ousted from contention, tied a franchise record with an eighth straight win by beating the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout.
New York led 3-1 on Ryan Strome's goal 55 seconds into the third period.
"It's frustrating," coach Jack Capuano said. "We had our chances, we just couldn't bury it. You can't fault the guys for their effort, but we just have to find a way to get the job done."
The Islanders are tied with Washington for second in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of Pittsburgh, which has a game in hand on both. The slump has caused New York to fall in the division after it held a one-point edge on the Rangers for first March 11.
"This is the time of year you really want to focus on regrouping quickly because this happens in the playoffs," Capuano said. "You have to be ready to go the next game."
The only potential postseason excitement for Buffalo would be securing the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. The Sabres (22-48-8) have the fewest points in the NHL, and have scored the fewest goals while giving up the second-most.
They've played well lately, though, beating Arizona and Toronto before blowing a one-goal lead in the final two minutes of a 4-3 loss to Chicago on Friday.
Marcus Foligno scored his second goal with 7:18 left in the third to give the Sabres the lead after the Blackhawks jumped ahead 2-0 in the first. Anders Lindback then allowed two goals to Jonathan Toews 47 seconds apart, the last coming with 56 seconds remaining.
Buffalo has tried to remain focused despite fans appearing to turn against the club, often celebrating opposing goals in hopes the Sabres have a better shot at the No. 1 pick.
"When I scored, I didn't hear too much," Foligno said. "But it is what it is right now. We know our fans are awesome. And obviously, there were a lot of Chicago fans."
Matt Hackett could get the nod in net to finish the back-to-back set. Hackett is 0-4-1 with a 4.32 goals-against average in four starts and one relief appearance this season, most recently replacing Lindback and allowing three goals on 10 shots in a 5-3 loss to Colorado last Saturday.
Jaroslav Halak could get the start for the Islanders. He's won four straight outings against the Sabres while posting a 1.25 GAA, but faced just 10 shots in a 3-2 win Feb. 8.
Tyler Ennis scored the lone goal in the shootout as Buffalo overcame two goals from John Tavares in a 4-3 victory in the first meeting Dec. 27.