As each minute ticked away last night at the First Niagara Center, the Islanders’ future was looking more and more black and gold.

Yet, the frightening Penguins team that dons those colors is not a guaranteed matchup now for the upstart Islanders, who clawed their way back from some sloppy play and earned a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Sabres.

“I told them after the game that they deserve this opportunity to move forward,” said coach Jack Capuano, whose team finishes the regular season with a 24-17-7 record and at least temporarily holds on to sixth place in the conference. “The past is the past. We’ll get some rest here and move forward. It’s an exciting time for the guys.”

If the Islanders had lost in regulation, they would have been locked into the eighth seed and set to meet the juggernaut Penguins, who ran away with the conference even in the face of key injuries now healed. And that is still a very real possibility, mostly because of Thursday’s 2-1 clunker of a loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia that kept the Islanders from at least somewhat controlling their own destiny.

Now they have to rely on the Rangers losing in regulation today against the Devils, as well as the Senators not gaining a point in their final two games to remain the sixth seed and draw the Southeast-winning Capitals. If the seven seed, they would face whoever wins the Northeast, either the Bruins or the Canadiens.

“This will be the first time in a while I’ll be scoreboard-watching trying to figure out who we’re going to play,” Capuano said, “because there is be a lot of work to be done.”

For most of last night, the Islanders struggled to generate a lot of offense and were down 1-0 early in the second after a Brian Flynn goal.