It's beginning to look as if the Buffalo Sabres will be as formidable an obstacle for the New York Islanders in their quest for a first-ever Stanley Cup as the Montreal Canadiens.
The Islanders, leaders of the National Hockey League's Patrick Division, have never beaten the Canadiens in a regular-season game and last week had an eight-game unbeated streak snapped in Montreal.
However, the Sabres, leaders of the Adams Division, have emerged as a new nemesis for the Islanders.
After losing to the Sabres only once last season - and wiping them out in four straight in the playoffs - the Islanders dropped their third straight game this season in Buffalo's Memorial Coliseum Thrusday night. Rene Robert scored a pair of goals to key the 6-3 Sabre victory.
If the loss wasn't enough to cause the Islanders added concern over the upcoming playoffs, it was compounded by a controversial goal by the Sabres.
With just over five minutes left in the game and Buffalo ahead, 4-3, the Islanders' Bob Nystrom seemed to have tied it with a shot. But the goal light never went on and referee Wally Harris ruled against the Islanders.
"Nystrom saw the puck and pushed it in with his glove," Harris said, explaining his ruling. "The Islanders claim the first shot went in. No way that happened. I saw it all the way."
Nystrom had a different version.
"I didn't push it in, I pushed it to the side," Nystrom claimed. "It (the disallowed goal) flattened our team out."
With the victory, the Sabres maintained their two-point edge over second-place Boston in the Adams Division. The Bruins edged Atlanta, 4-3, while Detroit, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers, all of whom are battling for the final available playoff spot, were idle.