If the New York Islanders thought like they were getting hosed before, imagine how they feel now.
Whether the gripe is genuine or a desperate motivational tool out of Ted Nolan's workbench, the Islanders were dealing with a sinking, helpless mood Wednesday night in Nassau Coliseum after the Buffalo Sabres beat them, 4-2, to take a commanding lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup.
The Sabres lead the best-of-seven playoff, 3-1. Of the 210 times in Stanley Cup playoff history a team has led by that margin, only 20 times have they not won the series.
Chris Drury netted two goals, including his 14th career winner, and Thomas Vanek scored for the second straight game to overcome two successful first-period Islander power plays. Jason Pominville iced the game with 72 seconds in regulation, but not before some serious drama.
Nolan was fuming after the game. He was upset about a potential game-tying goal that wasn't allowed with 1:42 left in the game.
Nassau Coliseum erupted when it appeared the Islanders had scored after a long stalemate that lasted nearly two full periods. Former Sabres winger Miroslav Satan plunged head-first into a crease pileup, and defenseman Brendan Witt went feet first to bowl over Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. The puck slid over the line, but referee Mike Leggo waved it off.
After a video review at the NHL's monitoring station in Toronto, the call stood.
"I don't care what anybody says. That was a goal," Nolan said. "They said we pushed the goaltender in. The puck was in the net before he was pushed. I don't care what anybody says. That was a goal.
"We had three different opinions on what was the call. Toronto was saying something. The referee was saying two or three different things. We haven't got the full explanation yet. We looked at video. We saw the puck banged in and then the goaltender gets pushed in. That's all we can say."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was confident the correct call was made but admitted some tense moments while waiting behind the bench.
"There's always doubt it your mind until you see the referee cross his arms and they go out to the left and the right," Ruff said.
The Sabres can eliminate the Islanders in Buffalo on Friday night. If necessary, Game Six will take place Sunday night on Long Island.
All of the games have been close, which has only added to the Islanders' ire.
"It's typical of one-goal games," Buffalo defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said. "If you lose you always try to blame something. But goals on the board are what's important. And in three games we got one extra. We could blame those referees, too. But you have to calm down and just play hockey because if you [complain] more and more they will never give you those calls."
Said Nolan: "We got to keep playing the way we have been. Any time you play against the top seed in the league, obviously, you're not going to get any breaks. We've just got to create our own breaks. We never got one yet."
Miller made 24 saves, while Rick DiPietro stopped 27 shots for the Islanders.
The Islanders went into the game having converted one of 11 power plays against the Sabres, but essentially scored two in the first period.
Jason Blake potted the first one to open scoring 6:24 into the game, just as Vanek was leaving the penalty box. Officially, it was not a power-play goal. Islanders defenseman Tom Poti made a cross-ice pass to Blake in the right circle for a one-timer.
The Sabres tied the score with 8:43 to go in the first period. Derek Roy cleanly won a faceoff against Randy Robitaille, sending the puck back to defenseman Teppo Numminen for a shot. The rebound went into the slot, where Vanek met it, and despite Islanders defenseman Chris Campoli in his face, pumped a shot past DiPietro.
Buffalo took its first lead less than two minutes later on Drury's first goal. Dainius Zubrus made it happen with a bulldog effort behind the net. He fought off Witt and then danced away from Ryan Smyth before sliding a backhand pass through traffic to Drury atop the crease.
The Islanders made Teppo Numminen pay for a scary boarding penalty on Blake. Numminen crushed Blake, who rammed his head and left shoulder into the wall and needed help from athletic trainer Garrett Timms, a Buffalo native. Blake didn't return to the ice until there was 8:03 remaining in the second period.
"In minor hockey, that kid's probably suspended for a month," Nolan said of Numminen's play. "Blake was shaken up. He was hurt. If that wasn't a hit from behind, I don't know what was."
But the Islanders scored on the ensuing power play. Smyth beat Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder to the puck to eliminate an icing. Viktor Kozlov coasted around to collect the puck, circled the cage and fed Mike Sillinger in front to tie the score with 16 seconds left in the first period.
Islanders fourth-liner Richard Park was penalized for interfering with Daniel Briere at the end of the first, giving the Sabres a power play to start the second period.
Drury converted it for his fourth postseason goal 39 seconds after the intermission. Brian Campbell took a low slap shot from the point that Drury redirected unsuccessfully, but he banged in the rebound to subdue the Nassau Coliseum crowd.