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Sabres fall to Islanders as Makarov debuts in goal
4 2015 .  Buffalo News. By Mike Harrington

UNIONDALE It was another one of those games where, on paper, the Buffalo Sabres didnt figure to stick around long. Then they took the ice and kept the playoff-bound New York Islanders plenty nervous.

With goaltender Andrey Makarov looking strong in his first NHL game, the Islanders didnt get any real breathing room until the final 11 minutes of their 3-0 win over Buffalo in Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night.

The Sabres final visit to the NHLs oldest rink crossed another game off the schedule and put them another notch closer to locking up a top-two pick in the NHL draft.

The Arizona Coyotes moved four points ahead of Buffalo with a 5-3 win late Saturday night over San Jose. Arizona and Buffalo both have three games left and the Sabres would clinch 30th with a regulation loss in their next game, Monday against Carolina in First Niagara Center.

Makarov made 33 saves but was outdueled by Jaroslav Halak, who made 21 stops for his sixth shutout of the season. A buzzing crowd of 16,170 saw the Islanders move to the brink of clinching just their second playoff berth in the last eight years. It could have been wrapped up Saturday with a regulation loss by Ottawa, but the Senators beat Washington in overtime, 4-3.

Kyle Okposo scored a power-play goal in the first period, with Brock Nelson and Nikolai Kulemin adding insurance in the third and that was that. Buffalo fell to 3-11-3 in its last 17 games.

Makarovs start was announced prior to the game by coach Ted Nolan, who also revealed that forward Matt Moulson would miss his second straight game with the flu. Moulson played here for five seasons and thus missed out on his chance for one last game on his old home rink.

More ominous was Nolans pronouncement that defenseman Mike Weber (lower body) would sit out for the second straight night and could miss all three of this weeks games that close the season.

Makarov, a 21-year-old Russian, was signed by the Sabres as an undrafted free agent in September 2012, and made his pro debut last season by splitting time between Rochester and Fort Wayne of the East Coast Hockey League. With the Amerks, hes posted a 15-17-3 record with a 2.98 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.

With Matt Hackett still battling knee trouble and the Sabres in the midst of three games in four nights, this was the right time to play someone other than Anders Lindback in goal.

To be honest, I didnt feel nervous, Makarov said. I tried to play a simple game and I was more nervous on the first shot and I stopped it. My confidence got up, and I felt good the whole game. Ive been waiting for this opportunity for a pretty long time. I finally got one and I took a chance to play my best game I could.

Makarov made 29 saves the last time the Sabres saw him, during a shootout loss in Toronto during the preseason. Nolan said prior to the game his curiosity was definitely piqued to see how his progress during the year translated to the NHL.

As it turned out, Makarov was stellar. He looked strong in his crease, often attacked shooters out of it and was confident with his glove.

He wasnt afraid. He looked like a very confident young man, Nolan said. Sometimes you get those first games in and youre kind of jittery and nervous and young, but he acted like a very mature guy here tonight. He went in and did a job very well.

The Islanders had the games first six shots, with only a sparkling glove save by Makarov on Nikolai Kulemin keeping the game scoreless.

They broke through on Okposos goal at 6:37, which came 39 seconds after Matt Ellis went to the penalty box for hooking. Okposos slap shot hit Brian Gionta and pinballed by Makarov. That was the only goal until Nelson leaked a quick snap shot through Makarovs pads at 9:32 of the third.

Zach Bogosian was in complete control of that play in the left corner but his cross-ice pass to Tyson Strachan boinked directly off an errant stick on the ice. It went right to Nelson in the slot and he beat Makarov, who had to quickly move to stop a shot he never figured was coming.

Its just a tough bounce and thats all you can really say about it, Bogosian said. Those things happen sometimes. I was trying to throw it over to Tyson and just unfortunate luck there. Kind of perfectly off the stick right to their guy. Not much you can do there.

Kulemin tipped home a Travis Hamonic shot with 6:47 left for the Islanders final goal. The Sabres were 0 for 4 on the power play in the game, failing to score on a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Brian Strait in the second period.

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