BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Chris Drury and the Buffalo Sabres received a timely late-season reminder of how important it is to not take any lead -- even a four-goal edge -- for granted.
NHL Playoff Picture
We pretty much know the identity of the West's eight playoff teams, but the East is a bumper-to-bumper race for its last few berths. Follow the races and games as the NHL regular season heads toward its April 8 conclusion.
• Projected series | Standings
At least it didn't cost them.
Drury scored twice and added an assist to spark a five-goal first period, and the Sabres hung on for a 6-4 win over the New York Islanders on Friday.
Besides inching to within a victory of clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Buffalo (50-20-7) also gained sole possession of first place in the NHL.
"The first period was obviously our best, and then we got pretty sloppy after that," Drury said. "But at the end of the day, it's still a 'W,' and it's better than getting on the plane with a loss. ... Sometimes you win ugly."
Buffalo which travels to play at Montreal on Saturday, became the first NHL team to reach 50 wins this season. With 107 points, Buffalo moved one ahead of Detroit in the league race, following the Red Wings' 4-3 shootout loss to Dallas.
The Islanders took little solace from their late-game rally in which they twice cut Buffalo's lead to two goals. What hurt is how the injury-depleted Islanders (36-29-12) are struggling to remain in the playoff hunt.
Buffalo's five first-period goals came in the first 14:57 of the period. It was the fourth time in Sabres history that they scored five goals in the first 15 minutes of a game. They also did it on Oct. 26, 1980 vs. the Islanders (five goals in 9:19), March 15, 1997 at Philadelphia (14:35) and Dec. 26, 2006 vs. Washington (9:50). Elias Says
The Islanders, who have five games left, remain tied with Carolina for 10th in the East in a tightly contested race between six teams separated by four points vying for the final three playoff spots.
"I don't feel good about any way you lose, whether it's 4-3, 5-3 or 15-1," New York coach Ted Nolan said. "It doesn't matter. You have to find a way to win one."
Besides missing starting goalie Rick DiPietro (concussion) for a second straight game, New York was also minus high-scoring left winger Ryan Smyth, who's listed day-to-day because of a leg injury.
DiPietro's injury hampers the Islanders the most, considering backup Mike Dunham allowed five goals on the first 10 shots he faced and was pulled after the first period. Dunham has lost five straight starts, a stretch in which he's allowed 24 goals.
Wade Dubielewicz, called up this week from the minors by the Islanders, stopped 17 shots.
No excuses, said Nolan.
"We have to ... concentrate on what we have to do to make the playoffs," he said. "It has nothing to do with Dunham's play. You give them three or four breakaways and that's tough on a goaltender."
Nolan was referring to Derek Roy's game-opening goal and Drury's second of the game, both coming on shorthanded breakaways.
Buffalo took control by scoring three goals during a 3:01 span to build a 4-1 lead before the game was 11 minutes old. Vanek opened the surge by scoring from behind the net, slipping the puck in with Dunham looking the wrong way. Drury then one-timed a shot in from the left circle, while Stafford capped the run by collecting a rebound in front and backhanding it over a helpless Dunham.
Buffalo also converted 3-of-7 power-play opportunities.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff called a timeout after the Islanders scored twice in the third period to cut the lead to 5-3.
"Yeah, he didn't have to say much but ask, 'Are we ready to play?'" Roy said. "They made it a game and I think that helped us mentally."
Smyth has four goals and nine assists in 13 games since the Islanders acquired him from Edmonton at the NHL trade deadline last month. ... Sabres center Daniel Briere had two assists to give him 92 points (31 goals, 61 assists), the most by a Buffalo player since the team had three with 96 or more points in 1992-93. ... Buffalo has scored two shorthanded goals in a game twice this season. The Sabres first did it by scoring two empty-netters in a 7-4 win over Toronto in November.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Arena: First Niagara Center Location: Buffalo, New York
Referees: Stephane Auger, Bill McCreary Linesmen: Darren Gibbs, Derek Nansen
Attendance: 18,690 (100.0% full)
Team Stat Comparison
Power Play Goals
Power Play Opportunities
Shots on Goal
Derek Roy (17)
(Shorthanded) Assist: Jason Pominville
Jason Blake (39)
(Power Play) Assists: Mike Sillinger, Tom Poti
Thomas Vanek (38)
Assists: Derek Roy, Drew Stafford
Chris Drury (36)
(Power Play) Assists: Jason Pominville, Daniel Briere
Drew Stafford (13)
(Power Play) Assists: Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville
Chris Drury (37)
No scoring this period
Viktor Kozlov (23)
(Power Play) Assists: Sean Hill, Chris Campoli
Tom Poti (5)
(Power Play) Assists: Arron Asham, Marc-Andre Bergeron
Dainius Zubrus (22)
(Power Play) Assists: Daniel Briere, Chris Drury
Viktor Kozlov (24)
Assists: Alexei Yashin, Miroslav Satan