Isles begin last-gasp playoff chase without Tavares

In what has been a difficult season and with time running out, the New York Islanders will have to get around a roadblock at the worst possible time in a last-ditch effort to secure a playoff spot.

With leading scorer and captain John Tavares out for the foreseeable future, the Islanders open a four-game road trip Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.

While still mathematically in the mix, the Islanders' chances of a third straight playoff appearance are slim. New York (36-29-12) and Carolina trail Boston by six points for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Islanders and Hurricanes each have five games remaining and the Bruins have four.

To make postseason plans, the Islanders must figure out a way to win without Tavares, who leads the team with 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists) in 77 games.

Tavares suffered an apparent lower-body injury, clutching the back of his left leg, with 3:14 to play in a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday that snapped a three-game losing streak.

"It's not a great scenario ... John is a huge engine and plays every single situation we've asked. It's a big blow any time you see your best player go down," said Islanders coach Doug Weight, who has posted a 19-12-4 record since taking over for the fired Jack Capuano.

The league's official website posted Saturday that Tavares will be out on a "week-to-week" basis.

With Tavares sidelined, the Islanders may look to Anders Lee (29 goals) and Andrew Ladd (21 goals) to pick up the slack. New York has six other players with at least 11 goals.

"Injuries happen. It's not fun, but it gives somebody a chance, right?" Weight told the league's official website. "It's going to give some more minutes to throw around, some big challenges at a good time of the year."

After this game, the Isles head to Nashville, Carolina and New Jersey before closing the regular season April 9 at home against Ottawa.

Buffalo (32-33-12) is playing out the string after failing to reach the postseason for the sixth straight year and searching for its fourth win in five games at KeyBank Center. The Sabres return home to open their final homestand of the season after falling 2-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

The Sabres will welcome back defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen after he served a three-game suspension for a hit on Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 21.

"I don't like resting, but obviously I can't say it didn't feel good," Ristolainen told The Buffalo News. "I got some good sleep, a couple of days off, so I feel really fresh right now."

Ristolainen leads the Sabres with 39 assists and is fifth on the club with 44 points. His goal 42 seconds into overtime lifted the Sabres to a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Dec. 16 in western New York.

Though Buffalo's Jack Eichel is winding down an injury-shortened second season, it still can be considered a success that he could eclipse the numbers he put up after being selected second overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.

A high ankle sprain kept Eichel out until his season debut in late November and limited him to 56 games. Despite that, Eichel still leads the club with 55 points (23 goals, 32 assists). In 81 games as a rookie, Eichel led the team with 24 goals and was second with 56 points.

However, he has failed to record a point in two matchups with the Isles this season and has just two assists in five career games against them.

If Robin Lehner gets the start in goal for the Sabres, he'll try to continue his strong play. In his last four games at home, Lehner is 3-1-0 and has allowed just seven goals.
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