There was more at stake for the Islanders than just playing the role of spoiler Sunday against the visiting Blue Jackets.
"As an individual, as an athlete, you take pride in what you do, in not embarrassing yourself," Cal Clutterbuck said, referring to the Isles' 6-0 home loss to the Wild on Tuesday. "I don't think there was a doubt we'd come out the way we did after that game."
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It's one thing to know you're left playing only for pride, as the Islanders are. It's another to actually play that way, which the Islanders very much did Sunday.
Evgeni Nabokov made 41 saves and the Isles outworked one of the hardest-working teams in the Eastern Conference for a 2-0 win before 15,008 at the Coliseum.
Clutterbuck helped set the tone 11:18 into the game. After Thomas Hickey frantically slid back to break up a Columbus scoring chance, knocking the net off its moorings in the process, Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin still fired a slap shot after the whistle. The shot caught Clutterbuck in the leg and the feisty Islanders winger took exception, exchanging gloved punches with Tyutin.
After two minutes of four-on-four play, Clutterbuck zipped straight from the penalty box and into the Columbus zone, where he skated onto a loose puck and beat Sergei Bobrovsky at 13:26 of the first.
Travis Hamonic went end-to-end on a rush up the middle for a power-play goal with 51.7 seconds left in the second period for a two-goal lead. It was just his second goal of the season, and his first in 45 games.
Nabokov and a tighter Islanders defense did the rest, turning aside initial shots and positioned with good sticks in the slot to repel any second chances.
It was a far cry from Tuesday, when a reasonably spirited first period became a final 40 minutes that disturbed Jack Capuano and his staff. With so many young Islanders in the lineup and a few veterans whose jobs for 2014-15 are hardly assured, Tuesday was a low point in an already disappointing season.
"Minny was an all-time low for us," Capuano said. "I wouldn't say we quit, but the effort wasn't there. Tonight was what we needed to see."
The Islanders have been in this spoiler role before, trying to ruin opposing teams' playoff hopes down the stretch of a lottery-bound season. The pressure, most would say, is off.
"There's all different kinds of pressure," said Kyle Okposo, who was a game-time decision with a lower-body injury but played 17:45. "What [Columbus] is going through now is different from what we've got going. But you're a pro. There's always pressure."
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