Some days, the standings can't matter.
The third period Sunday afternoon in Nassau Coliseum was all about this group of Buffalo Sabres showing some pride, showing they understand what those crossed swords on their chests have meant to their fans and alumni for 40 years.
There would be no excuse for losing to the lowly New York Islanders for the third time in nine days. But after a second period in which they were badly outplayed and outshot, 17-5, the Sabres were in a 2-2 tie.
It was time for a 20-minute gut check. And for once in a season when their work ethic has been widely questioned, the Sabres got the job done.
Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Myers scored in the first four minutes of the third period as Buffalo seized control and went on to beat the Islanders, 5-3, before an announced crowd of 10,255.
"It was an important step. They had a pretty good second period against us," said goaltender Ryan Miller, who had 15 of his 31 saves in the middle frame. "When they put pressure on you, you have to stop and collect yourself as a group. I thought we did a good job of that in the third."
Buffalo played this one without the injured Tim Connolly, Drew Stafford and Patrick Kaleta, and was further handicapped as coach Lindy Ruff revealed leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek has been dealing with an undetermined upper-body injury. Vanek played only 13 minutes.
"I just decided to pull back a little bit on him," Ruff said. "The plan wasn't to get him as few minutes as he got but the way the penalties turned out, it ended up on the shorter end. You have to admire the fact he's been playing with it."
The Sabres couldn't pull back in the third period. They needed to go. Gerbe snapped the tie at 1:48, one-timing home a great backhand pass from Tyler Ennis for his sixth of the season and third in two games.
"People know [Ennis] has great vision out there and sees things other guys don't," said Gerbe, who shot from the left circle. "It was a great pass by him and I just tried to one-touch it as quick as I could."
Myers made it 4-2 at 3:51 as his goalmouth deflection off a nifty Gerbe feed was at first stopped by Rick DiPietro, but then accidentally nudged into the net by center Josh Bailey. The goal was recorded after a lengthy video review.
The Islanders got within 4-3 on Jack Hillen's goal at 16:37, but Jason Pominville scored into an empty net at 19:36 to allow the Sabres to break a four-game losing streak in the Coliseum.
As for the standings, Buffalo improved to 8-3-1 in its last 12 games and moved past Florida into 10th in the East. The Sabres are three points behind No. 9 Carolina and six back -- with three games in hand -- of skidding eighth-place Atlanta.
Embarrassed from the opening faceoff of Friday's 5-2 loss to the Islanders in HSBC Arena, the Sabres set a much different tone in this one as Paul Gaustad's goal after 15 seconds gave them a 1-0 lead heading to the first intermission.
Matt Moulson tied the game on a power play at 1:15 of the second but Ennis got the Sabres back in front at 4:48 by scoring the 12th goal of what's turning into a solid rookie season on a back-hand that was deflected home by Isles defenseman Dylan Reese.
Miller held the fort in the second period. Moulson tapped home a rebound at 13:27 for his second of the game, but Miller stoned Bailey on a breakaway or it could have been even worse.
"I wanted to re-establish my game," said Miller, who was yanked after 10 1/2 minutes Friday. "It felt good to battle through the second period and set the stage for the guys to go out and have a great third period."
Added Gerbe: "You don't really want to drop three to this team."
No, you don't.
Slap shots: Goals by Gerbe and Myers snap third-period tie, salvage third meeting in nine days vs. Isles. ... Miller makes 15 saves in second period, 31 in the game. ... Byron makes NHL debut for Buffalo, assists on Myers' goal.
Fast fact: Byron became the 48th player in franchise history to get his first NHL point in his first game.
Next game: Tuesday at Ottawa Senators, 7 p.m. in Scotiabank Place