The final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum was a barn burner. It was also a missed opportunity for the Islanders to finish in second place in the Metropolitan Division and gain home ice for a first round series against the Capitals. Instead, they’ll start on the road after falling to the Blue Jackets 5-4 in a shootout.
The story of the game was blown leads for the Long Island hosts. They blew both a two-goal lead and one-goal lead in the third period. It even extended to the shootout where Jaroslav Halak was unable to seal the win allowing a tying goal to Alexander Wennberg in the third round that resulted in Cam Atkinson beating him in Round 4 to give Columbus their 11th win in the final 12.
With the game tied 1-1 early in the third, the Islanders put themselves in great position scoring twice within a 55-second span. Goals from Eric Boulton and Islander captain John Tavares had the Coliseum rocking. At that point, they were dominating sending 40 shots on Columbus backup Curtis McElhinney. For the game, they outshot the Blue Jackets 52-37.
With the Islanders still in control, the Jackets used a lucky bounce to rally back. On a forecheck behind the Isles’ net, former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky sent a backhand that caromed off Halak and in cutting it to 3-2 with 10:23 left. Both MSG Islanders broadcasters Howie Rose and Butch Goring couldn’t figure out how the puck went in. It was odd to say the least with the puck taking a unpredictable bounce off Josh Bailey in mid-air and winding up in the back of the Isles’ cage.
Suddenly alive, the Jackets started forechecking the Islanders pinning them in for shifts. It eventually led to Wennberg tying it less than two minutes later from Marko Dano and Scott Hartnell. They continued to apply pressure forcing Halak to make some tough saves.
With the capacity crowd urging on their team with “Let’s Go Islanders” chants, the Islanders responded by reclaiming the lead with 4:24 left on a Nikolay Kulemin goal. After Lubomir Visnovsky made a good play in the neutral zone, Kulemin broke in with Tavares two-on-one. He fed Tavares whose shot rebounded off McElhinney right to Kulemin for an easy tap in. It was his 15th of the season. At that point, Tavares had a goal and assist giving him 86 points. He entered tied with Sidney Crosby for the scoring lead. By night’s end, a Jamie Benn hat trick and assist resulted in the Stars’ forward edging Tavares for the Art Ross 87-86. The lowest output over a full season since Stan Mikita recorded 87 in 1967-68.
”We didn’t simplify our game,” Tavares said. ”We’re going to have to do that to win games on the road in the playoffs.”
Nursing a one-goal lead, the Isles couldn’t quite hang on. Instead, the Jackets were able to get the game tied again after pulling McElhinney for an extra attacker. That turned out to be Scott Hartnell, who came off the bench and fired a Artem Anisimov pass by a screened Halak tying it 4-4 with 1:35 remaining in regulation.
The four-on-four overtime was exciting with both teams going for it. They combined for 10 shots but were unable to decide a winner. That forced a shootout.
In the skill competition, Tavares went in slowly before faking out McElhinney and tucking in a forehand to put the Isles up in Round 1. After Halak robbed Mark Letestu with a glove save, Kyle Okposo narrowly missed a backhand that would’ve put them in the driver’s seat. Ryan Johansen was the Jackets’ second shooter. He nearly beat Halak who got just enough of the puck to keep it out. Video review confirmed that the puck was on the goal line but never completely over.
Following a McElhinney denial on Kulemin, Wennberg beat Halak short side sending it to Round 4. Odd Jack Capuano choice Cal Clutterbuck was stuffed setting the stage for Atkinson, who didn’t miss sending his team to victory.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Nikolay Kulemin, NYI (goal-15th, assist, 4 SOG, +3 in 31 shifts-21:25)
2nd Star-Scott Hartnell, CBJ (game-tying goal-28th, assist, 5 SOG, 7 attempts, +2 in 24 shifts-16:46)
1st Star-John Tavares, NYI (goal-38th, assist, 5 SOG, 8 attempts, 14-for-20 on faceoffs, +2 in 26 shifts-21:10)
Notes: Okposo had a good game scoring for the third time in the last five and assisting on another while going plus-three. He finishes with 18 goals and 33 assists for 51 points in 60 games ranking second in team scoring. … With an assist, Josh Bailey concluded the year with a career high 41 points (15-26-41) beating his previous best of 38 set in ’13-14. … Nick Leddy recorded two assists pacing all Isles’ defensemen in assists (27), points (37) and plus/minus (18). … Halak finished with 33 saves. … Matt Martin, Frans Nielsen and Travis Hamonic were all scratches. Hamonic remains questionable for Game 1 versus the Caps. He left Friday’s game due to a hip check from Pens’ defenseman Rob Scuderi.
Quotable: ”The fans were amped up and behind us. We (were) excited and happy to have them behind us all year.”-Islanders forward Kyle Okposo on a loud capacity Nassau Coliseum entering the playoffs.