The New York Islanders are all but eliminated from a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they put a dent in the postseason hopes of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
The Islanders got goals from forward Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Travis Hamonic, and goalie Evgeni Nabokov made 41 saves for his third shutout of the season and 58th of his career, to defeat the Blue Jackets 2-0 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"Your goaltender is obviously your best penalty killer," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He made some big saves for us. We mismanaged the puck in the neutral zone a few times … but he was there for us."
The Blue Jackets alternated wins and losses in their prior six games and had an opportunity to at least temporarily move into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they lost their second straight to remain on the outside of the playoff picture, with 78 points and 11 games remaining.
"It's hard this time of year to get that intensity level up every single night," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "We didn’t have it at a high enough level tonight, and we ended up paying for it.
"It’s really disappointing. We had an opportunity to help ourselves, but we didn't take that opportunity"
A problem for the Blue Jackets has been their power play, which after going 0-for-6 Sunday is 0-for-35 in 10 games dating to March 4. Columbus was victimized on the penalty kill in the closing seconds of the second period, when Hamonic did his best impersonation of Bobby Orr.
Hamonic received the puck from Calvin de Haan behind the Islanders net and went coast to coast, bobbing and weaving through Blue Jackets defenders before firing a wrist shot past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for a 2-0 lead. It was Hamonic's first goal since Oct. 29, a span of 45 games, and the Islanders' ninth power-play goal in their past 74 attempts covering 19 games.
"Things haven't necessarily gone in pretty easily for me this season, so it's nice to see the ice kind of open up," Hamonic said. "Honestly I was just trying to hit [center Ryan Strome] on the left side of the ice. We've had some success early on in the period doing that. That was our route, and it seems like the defenseman kind of overplayed both sides of the ice and protected the walls a little bit too much. Fortunate to keep skating and it was a pretty big relief to get that one in.
"I was glad to get that scoring chance and finish it. Nice to chip in offensively, but I work to bring a defense presence first. I was just fortunate to get my feet moving and score."
Playing their first game in four days, the Islanders opened the scoring when Clutterbuck scored his 10th of the season at 13:26. After the puck was chipped into the corner, rookie Johan Sundstrom's wraparound attempt was stopped by Bobrovsky. With Frans Neilsen battling Matt Calvert, Clutterbuck, just out of the penalty box, picked up the loose puck and beat Bobrovsky for his 10th goal.
Nielsen's assist gave him 50 points for the first time in the NHL. Sundstrom had the secondary assist for his first NHL point.
Columbus opened the third with a 6-0 advantage in shots before Bobrovsky denied defenseman Kevin Czuczman on a 3-on-1 attempt, but the Islanders were able to avoid a dubious trend in which they have lost a two-goal lead in the third period eight times this season (1-4-3). Cam Atkinson gave the Blue Jackets their finest scoring chance of the third with 5:53 left when he drove on net against a sliding Matt Donovan, but his shot was gloved by Nabokov. Atkinson drew the penalty, but Columbus managed one shot with the man-advantage.
Seconds after pulling Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets drew another penalty to create a two-man advantage for the final 1:50. Nabokov stopped a one-timer from the point, and the Islanders were able to clear after a scramble near the crease and hang on despite being outshot 17-9 in the final period.
"We have to bring our game to another level, plain and simple," Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "It wasn’t good enough. We have to be better."