The Blue Jackets put the finishing touches on one of their best finishes in team history, closing out the season with a 13 game-points streak courtesy of one last comeback effort.
With Nassau Coliseum rocking in the closing minutes of its final regular-season contest, Scott Hartnell came off the bench as the extra attacker and beat Jaroslav Halak with 1:35 remaining to send the game to overtime and ultimately a 5-4 shootout win courtesy of Cam Atkinson to put a bow on the regular season.
The Islanders struck quickly in the third period, with Eric Boulton and John Tavares each scoring 55 seconds apart to give the Islanders a two-goal lead in the third period. Sound familiar? It should, because just nine days ago the Islanders held a two-goal lead against the Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Ryan Johansen and Jack Johnson scored 5:09 apart to erase that lead in Columbus, and on Long Island, the Islanders were once again unable to hang onto the two-goal cushion.
Brandon Dubinsky and Alexander Wennberg both beat Halak in a span of 1:34 to pull the Blue Jackets even and silence the raucous Coliseum crowd. When Tavares helped set up a Nikolay Kulemin goal with 4:24 to go that reignited the building, Hartnell’s 28th goal of the season kept the Jackets’ point streak alive.
Wennberg’s goal was his fourth of the season, a fitting reward for a rookie who has been asked to play a large role for this injury-ravaged team all season and has undergone his growing pains in the NHL. The scoring touch never fully developed this season, but Wennberg’s defensive game and maturity have grown exponentially during the season.
The rookie also buried his third shootout goal of the season to polish off the Islanders, his third goal in five attempts this season.
The Blue Jackets asked Curtis McElhinney to do an awful lot this season with Sergei Bobrovsky injured multiple times. McElhinney’s first stint of extended duty reflected the team’s play as a whole, with the veteran back-up earning just one win in his first eight starts while the team went 2-11-2. After those early struggles, McElhinney was outstanding in the season’s second half and gave the team a chance to win even when the results still didn’t match those of the last month and a half.
After Bobrovsky took his bow at Nationwide Arena on Friday, McElhinney got to close out the season with one more win to push his record to 12-14-2 on the season. McElhinney is a pending free agent and gave management a lot to think about this off-season with his play down the stretch. The veteran stopped 48 of 52 shots against the Islanders, including several breakaways in the first period. In his final two starts of the season against the Islanders and Oilers, McElhinney combined to stop 92 of 99 shots.
“It was fun, that’s a playoff hockey atmosphere,” said McElhinney. “For myself to get that opportunity to play, it was a lot of fun. Obviously, it’s not our year, but it was still fun to be a part of.”
The Jackets won’t be in the playoffs, but they certainly played a huge role in the matchups coming next week. The Blue Jackets effort on Saturday not only put a damper on the Islanders’ festivities, but also denied them home-ice advantage in their first round series with the Washington Capitals.
The Jackets were 8-0-1 over the course of their 13-game points streak against teams in playoff position. That 13-game streak proved to Todd Richards that he has the right people in the room to play playoff caliber hockey.
“We’re going to have some time off now, which is disappointing because we’d rather be in environments like this. It was a great game tonight, it was great in the building and this is what we do,” said Richards. “But for me it’s about looking ahead and the excitement of how we finished.”