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At the Rink: Islanders at Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz /

COLUMBUS -- Being a spoiler is a condescending compliment the Columbus Blue Jackets would rather not have attached to them.

But there's no mistaking the Blue Jackets (37-35-4), who Tuesday were mathematically eliminated from qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, are making it difficult for those still in the chase.

During the current seven-game winning streak the Blue Jackets have defeated postseason contenders in the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

Next are the New York Islanders (45-27-5) on Thursday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, FS-O). The Islanders' 95 points have them tied for second in the Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, one point ahead of the Washington Capitals.

"I'd rather be playing for the playoffs," Columbus left wing Nick Foligno said. "Obviously, you're going to try and find a silver lining in any situation you're in. I'm not looking at it as spoiling anyone's hopes. I'm looking at it as us playing really well."

The Islanders are 3-6-1 in the past 10 games but are coming off a 5-4 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday in which they overcame a two-goal deficit.

"Mentally we stayed with it and we never faltered from our game plan and our belief in what we're doing here," New York defenseman Brian Strait said. "That's a big step."

The incentive for Columbus is to finish the season strong and with a win Thursday tie the franchise record for consecutive wins. With four players out with injuries, this is the healthiest the Blue Jackets have been this season.

"We're finally playing the way we know how to play," Blue Jackets right wing Jared Boll said. "It's been a tough year, but of late we've been playing Blue Jacket hockey. We're playing with a lot of pride and playing for each other."

He doesn't like the Blue Jackets being called a spoiler but accepts the fate.

"Being a spoiler means you're out of the playoffs and trying to ruin some other team's season," he said. "If that's what it takes to get us up for games, that's what we'll do."

The game Thursday is the first of three straight for the Islanders against opponents who've been eliminated.

They are home to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and are at the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday before finishing at Pittsburgh on April 10 and one day later hosting Columbus in the final regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum.

"This time of the year it doesn't matter who you're playing, it's going to be a tough game," Strait said. "There's teams playing for playoff spots. There's teams trying to get in. There's teams playing for jobs next year. Everybody's playing for something."

Strait doesn't see the Blue Jackets in a spoiler role.

"It's a media term," he said. "They're a good hockey team, there's no question about it. It's going to be hard for us to get two points. That's all we know. That's all we really care about. We don't label them."

Here are the probable lineups:


Nikolay Kulemin - John Tavares - Ryan Strome

Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo

Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Eric Boulton

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Brian Strait - Travis Hamonic

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky

Jaroslav Halak

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Michael Grabner, Tyler Kennedy, Colin McDonald, Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan

Injured: Mikhail Grabovski (concussion)


Boone Jenner - Ryan Johansen - Cam Atkinson

Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov - Nick Foligno

Scott Hartnell - Alexander Wennberg - Jeremy Morin

Matt Calvert - Mark LetestuJared Boll

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Fedor Tyutin - Dalton Prout

Kevin Connauton - Cody Goloubef

Sergei Bobrovsky

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Justin Falk, Corey Tropp, Marko Dano

Injured: David Clarkson (oblique), Jack Skille (shoulder), Rene Bourque (back), Ryan Murray (ankle)

Status report: Johnson was not feeling well at the morning skate and was sent home. He is a game-time decision. Falk would be his replacement. … Boulton, a healthy scratch the past 11 games will play, likely for Kennedy. "(Boulton) is a real good leader for us," New York coach Jack Capuano said. "We could use some more emotion on the bench at times during the game and he gives us that element of toughness as well." The rookie Dano will be a healthy scratch for the first time in 23 games since being recalled Feb. 17 from Springfield of the American Hockey League. … Boll returns from a three-game suspension for a check to the head of Anaheim Ducks forward Patrick Maroon on March 24. … Grabner, out with the flu last week, will be available.

Who's hot: Johansen is on an eight-game point streak (three goals, eight assists). … The Islanders are 20-5-1 vs. division foes.

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