Skip to Main Content

Islanders blow two leads in third, fall to Blue Jackets

by John Kreiser

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Columbus Blue Jackets spoiled the party for the packed house that turned out to celebrate the final regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum. Happily for the New York Islanders and their fans, there's playoff hockey yet to come in the only place they've ever called home.

Cam Atkinson scored in the fourth round of the shootout, giving the Blue Jackets a 5-4 victory against the New York Islanders on Saturday.

After Alexander Wennberg scored in the third round of the tiebreaker, Atkinson won it in the fourth round when his forehand shot beat Jaroslav Halak, relegating the Islanders to third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Halak made 33 saves through 65 minutes and two in the shootout for the Islanders, who will face the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That series would have started at the Coliseum if the Islanders (47-28-7) had won, because the Capitals lost 4-2 to the New York Rangers earlier Saturday.

The loss was a disappointing end for the Islanders' first 100-point season since 1983-84. But captain John Tavares said they have to accentuate the positive, the fact they're going to play postseason hockey for the second time since 2007.

"We're playing in the playoffs, and we're playing a heck of a hockey team," said Tavares, who had a goal and an assist in the third period, giving him a career-high 86 points; he finished one point behind Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars for the NHL scoring title. "Whatever the circumstances are, you deal with them and you come ready to play.

"We're in the playoffs and we've had a great season. We know we're getting another opportunity here at home and we want to take advantage of that."

Perhaps the biggest reason the Islanders aren't opening their series against Washington at the Coliseum is Columbus backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who got the start after Sergei Bobrovsky played Friday in a 4-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres. McElhinney made 48 saves through overtime and three more in the shootout for the Blue Jackets (42-35-5), who ended the season with a 12-0-1 run.

"(McElhinney) played really well; he stopped four or five breakaways in the first two periods," said Columbus forward Scott Hartnell, who sent the game into overtime by scoring with 1:35 remaining.

It looked like the Islanders had the game wrapped up when Eric Boulton and Tavares scored 55 seconds apart early in the third. Boulton scored his second goal of the season at 2:52 by banging a rebound past McElhinney to break a 1-1 tie. Tavares set up in the lower left circle and one-timed a pass from Kyle Okposo behind McElhinney at 3:47 to give New York a two-goal lead.

But the Blue Jackets refused to roll over. Brandon Dubinsky made it a one-goal game at 9:37 when his pass from behind the net went off Islanders forward Josh Bailey, hit Halak and slid over the goal line. Columbus tied the game at 11:11 during a delayed penalty when Wennberg put home a one-timer after intense pressure by the Blue Jackets.

Nikolay Kulemin put the Islanders back in front with 4:24 remaining when he knocked in Tavares' rebound. But the Blue Jackets pulled McElhinney for an extra attacker, and Hartnell tied it when he sent a shot from the high slot past Halak.

"We have a resilient team," Hartnell said. "If the [season] were 90 games, maybe we'd sneak in [to the playoffs]. It was great to get a win and end the season on a high note."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano was happy with his team's performance, just not the result.

"I thought we dictated the pace of the game," he said. "We had three or four breakaways in the first period that we didn't score on. I'm not disappointed with the effort; they got a couple of fluke goals."

The packed house at the Coliseum was revved up from the opening draw, which followed a video history of the building and a ceremonial puck drop by the family of longtime Islanders coach Al Arbour, who led them to four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-83.

McElhinney stopped all 20 shots in faced in the first period, not counting three breakaways by the Islanders that hit the post or went wide, before the Blue Jackets went ahead on a power-play goal by Atkinson with 9.9 seconds left. He put a rebound past Halak for his 22nd of the season 12 seconds after Islanders center Casey Cizikas took a hooking penalty.

The Islanders got even at 11:02 of the second period after some solid work in the offensive zone. Kulemin got the puck along the left wall and sent it behind the net, and Bailey's quick centering pass found Okposo in the slot for a one-timer that McElhinney had no chance on. It was Okposo's 18th of the season.

Okposo's goal and the other three scored by the Islanders were serenaded by the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chant that has become a theme at home this season.

"I had butterflies today," Okposo said. "You get those little nerves going every game, but tonight was a little bit different. You've got to use those nerves, and when the building is loud you've got to feed off their energy. I thought we did a pretty good job of that tonight; we just made a couple of mistakes."

Tavares said he and his teammates have to shake off the loss and look ahead to Washington.

"It's disappointing," he said. "The way the crowd was today was incredible. We felt the urgency. I thought we brought that. We had the opportunity in front of us, but didn't capitalize. You just have to get over it. It's a new season now. We're playing some more hockey and we're looking forward to our fans being behind us."

View More