BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano had no choice but to have faith in younger players after star forward John Tavares was lost to a season-ending knee injury.
Brock Nelson and fellow rookies delivered down the stretch and provided a glimpse at a brighter future for the Islanders, who head into the offseason after missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.
Nelson scored with 3:44 remaining to force overtime, and then netted the lone shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night in a season-ending matchup of non-playoff teams.
The Islanders (34-37-11) won by rallying from a 2-0 deficit and closed the season by winning three straight and eight of 12 (8-2-2).
"These kids have played extremely hard, and I'm proud of what they've done not only in the last month and a half, but these last three games," Capuano said. "They really stuck together."
The future looks even better after Capuano reiterated that Tavares is on track in his recovery from a left knee injury and should be ready to begin training in the summer.
There is much more work to do in Buffalo.
Torrey Mitchell, Jamie McBain and Matt Ellis scored for the Sabres (21-51-10), who had already clinched the NHL's worst record. The Sabres went 0-6-1 in their final seven games.
With 150 goals scored, Buffalo set the NHL-low in the league's post-expansion era that began in 1967. The previous low was 151 by Tampa Bay in 1997-98.
"The standard has to be set a little bit higher than it was," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "We'll address that starting with the meetings (Monday)."
Nelson, an Islanders' first-round pick in the 2010 draft, was eager to show what potential the team's youngsters possess.
"We knew we had a young group and a lot of rookies," said Nelson, who topped the Islanders' rookie class with 14 goals and 26 points. "We wanted to go out there and give it everything we had every night. I think we were able to do that."
Nelson scored the lone shootout goal on the Islanders' second shot. He snapped a shot that rookie Connor Knapp got a piece of with his stick. But there was enough backspin for the puck to dribble in.