BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The previously surging New York Islanders are hitting the skids at the worst possible time.
If they don't find their game quickly, their first playoff appearance in six years might be a short one.
Buffalo's Thomas Vanek scored the lone goal in the shootout and Ryan Miller made 30 saves before the tiebreaker to lead the Sabres in a 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Friday night in the final regular season game for both teams.
Miller, playing in his 500th game with the Sabres, sealed the win when he stopped John Tavares' shot in the third round of the shootout. Brian Flynn scored in regulation for the Sabres off an assist from Vanek.
Keith Aucoin scored and Evgeni Nabokov made 21 saves through overtime for the Islanders, who moved up to sixth place in the Eastern Conference but will need help to stay there. The Islanders (24-17-7) lead the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators by one point, but the Rangers have one game left, and Ottawa has two remaining this weekend.
``If we're going to play like this, I don't think we're going to have much chance in the playoffs,' Nabokov said. ``Teams are so evenly built right now, so whoever has more edge, who goes to the net more, wins hockey games usually.
``We've been doing a great job of it lately, but not the last two games. We have to get back to practice and get ready for the first game.'
The Islanders earned at least one point in 12 of their final 13 games - losing in regulation time only at Philadelphia on Thursday. If they drop to eighth place they will start the playoffs against the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.
``We got the point. They won the skills competition,' Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the latest loss. ``But I told them after the game that they deserve this opportunity to move forward now. The past is the past. When we get back, we'll get some rest here and move forward. It's an exciting time for the guys.'
Buffalo will miss the playoffs for the second straight season and fourth in six years. The Sabres head into the offseason with questions about the futures of general manager Darcy Regier, interim coach Ron Rolston, and Miller, who is entering the final year of his contract.
Miller became the 20th NHL goalie to play 500 games with one team. He received an ovation from the crowd before the game when he was recognized as the team's most valuable player, and saluted the fans from center ice after the game. In his last home start before Friday, Miller was booed off the ice as the Sabres were eliminated from playoff contention.
``I just tried to have some fun with it, just remind Buffalo people that I appreciate everything they've done for me,' Miller said. ``It's just taking this as a milestone because we're not going to make the playoffs. I can just step out of myself and try to appreciate the moment just a little bit more. It was nice.'
New York controlled the action in overtime but couldn't get the puck past Miller. Tavares misfired on three shots from close range, and Miller turned aside hard drives and stood up to slap shots from Brian Strait and Josh Bailey.
Aucoin got the Islanders even at 1 with 12:34 left in the third period, slipping the puck between Miller's pads.
Buffalo took the lead 3:29 into the second period when Vanek won a battle for the puck along the boards and sent a cross-ice pass to Flynn, who fired a slap shot from the top of the right circle over Nabokov's glove.
Following the game, Sabres forward Jochen Hecht announced his retirement. The 14-year veteran, who returned to Buffalo this season, signed a one-year contract after being limited to playing 22 games last season due to post-concussion symptoms.
Hecht, who finished with five goals and nine assists in 46 games this season, was the Sabres' final shootout participant.
NOTES: The Islanders were 1 for 17 on the power play in their last four games. ... The Sabres went 8-4 in April. They have gone 31-15-3 in April games since 2006. ... Flynn and fellow rookies Grigorenko and Mark Pysk are expected to join the Rochester Americans in Toronto for the start of the AHL playoffs.
The Associated Press News Service
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