BUFFALO, New York — This time, the New York Islanders made a 3-0 lead stick in Buffalo.
Mikhail Grabovski's snap shot from the slot midway through the second period stood up as the difference for the Islanders, who built a three-goal edge and then hung on for a 3-2 victory Sunday night. That was a switch from New York's previous visit on Dec. 27, when the Sabres won 4-3 in a shootout by overcoming a 3-0 third-period deficit.
The stinging memories of that last outcome briefly started filtering back after Buffalo rallied for two goals in a 2:24 span late in the second period.
"We've got a clear-cut 3-on-2 and (Casey) Cizikas walks right down the gut and could've made it 4-1, and at that time you're thinking, 'Can you bury that one?'" Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We know what happened here last time, but we didn't give them that much in that period."
Nor all game, for that matter.
Playing their third game in four nights and after losing three regulars to injuries in a 2-1 loss at Boston on Saturday, the Islanders regrouped by relying on their defense. They limited the Sabres to two shots over the final 25 minutes in a game New York outshot Buffalo 31-10.
"I don't think there was any panic," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "When you're faced with a little adversity, you've just got to find a way to overcome it."
Rookie Anders Lee and Colin McDonald also scored. Travis Hamonic had two assists in helping New York (34-18-1) earn its second win in six games and vault into first place in the Metropolitan Division.
McDonald scored after he and Harry Zolnierczyk were called up from AHL Bridgeport. They filled in after forwards Michael Grabner and Cal Clutterbuck (both upper-body injuries) and defenseman Calvin de Haan (cut to the forehead) were hurt against Boston.
Marcus Foligno had a goal and assist in his first game after missing 19 with a hand injury. Drew Stafford also scored for Buffalo (16-35-3), which was also playing its third game in three days. Buffalo was coming off a 3-2 win over Dallas on Saturday, and dropped to 2-16 in its past 18.
The inability to generate any offensive momentum cost a team that's averaging a league-worst 1.7 goals per game.
"A 2-0 lead would've been something that we could've battled back from," Foligno said. "When it gets to three goals, it's a little bit tougher."
And yet the Sabres were in the game after Foligno scored at the 12:33 mark of the second period by crashing the net after goalie Jaroslav Halak was unable to control a rebound off Nikita Zadorov's shot from the left wing.
Foligno then set up Stafford by chipping the puck at the Islanders blue line to send in Stafford on a breakaway.
The Sabres squandered an opportunity to tie the game in the opening minute of the third period, when they failed to get a shot on net during a 33-second two-man advantage. Defenseman Thomas Hickey played a key role on the penalty kill by blocking Tyler Ennis' one-timer from the right circle, and then breaking up a pass through the middle.
The Islanders appeared in full control when Hamonic set up Grabovski alone in the slot 11:22 into the second period.
He scored 62 seconds after Lee stuffed in a loose puck into the left side — and after Hamonic missed just wide on tap-in attempt at the right post.
McDonald opened the scoring 16:19 into the game by converting Cizikas' pass through the middle.
"I was waiting for my opportunity, and you just never really know when you're going to get it," said McDonald, who appeared in just his third NHL game this season after having eight goals and 10 assists in 70 games last year.
NOTES: The Isles improved to 4-0-3 in their past seven against Buffalo. ... Sabres C Cody Hodgson was a healthy scratch for the second time in five games. ... New York's Frans Nielsen, who assisted on Grabovski's goal, played in his 500th career game, most among Danish-born players.