Doug Weight wanted “crazed dogs,” in his words, to come out for the Islanders in Saturday’s matinee against the Blue Jackets at Barclays Center. After a dismal loss to the Jets on Thursday, Weight wanted his team to play like one that is fighting for its playoff life.
He didn’t see any of that until the third period, though, and then only briefly. The Islanders managed to eke out one point, thanks to John Tavares’ third-period goal, but they lost to Columbus, 3-2, on Cam Atkinson’s winner at 1:19 of an ugly overtime.
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“It was probably the worst two periods I’ve seen in a year and a half,” Weight said. “I told them after the second, ‘You should thank your lucky stars it’s only 2-1 and you have a chance to win a game.’ I was just disappointed with some guys who’ve had really good years.”
The Islanders are a point behind the Maple Leafs, who lost to the Blackhawks in overtime, for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Toronto has a game in hand. The Isles are a point ahead of the Lightning, which lost to the Capitals.
Travis Hamonic’s one-timer off a feed from Jason Chimera gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead after a period despite only five shots on Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (Thomas Greiss had to stop 12). And the second period was far, far worse.
As happened on Thursday against a much inferior Winnipeg team, the Islanders could not string two passes together in the period. Dennis Seidenberg lost an edge and allowed Oliver Bjorkstrand in alone to beat Greiss a minute in, and Columbus took the lead on Josh Anderson’s backhand at 15:48.
The shots on goal were 16-8 in the second and the play was decidedly in the Islanders’ end. In their last five games — a 1-3-1 slide at the worst possible time of the season — the Islanders have been outscored 12-5 in the second period.
“We just haven’t been as consistent as we’d like,” Tavares said. “It certainly wasn’t our best game.”
The Islanders came to life a minute or so before the tying score, generating more time and effort in the Columbus end. Tavares took a pass from Seidenberg along the blue line and threw a wrist shot through a crowd for his 27th goal at 8:48, and that awoke something in the home side.
Brock Nelson rang a wrist shot off the post a minute later and the Islanders had the Blue Jackets clinging to the possibility of overtime the rest of the way. But in the three-on-three session, Josh Ho-Sang and Calvin de Haan both gave the puck away and Atkinson buried a feed from Brandon Dubinsky to end it.
Now the Islanders have three days without a game before facing the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The two games against their two biggest rivals will help decide whether there are meaningful games after that or whether the Isles — despite their furious run to get into the playoff race — ultimately will be watching to see whether Toronto or Tampa Bay grabs the last berth.
“I think what you take out of that is how we played in the third and how we need to play like that the rest of the way,” Andrew Ladd said. “You need to feel what that desperation feels like and you just hope it’s contagious as we get down the stretch.”