COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Islanders’ push for their first playoff berth since 2016 was met with pushback from the Blue Jackets.
It would still take a considerable collapse for the Islanders to miss the postseason. But their chances of finishing first in the Metropolitan Division took a hit as they allowed three third-period goals in a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena.
“You want to win these games down the stretch but we’re not scoreboard watching,” captain Anders Lee said. “It’s not our thing. It’s up to us and we’ve got a big one in Winnipeg in a couple of days.”
“Everyone knows,” coach Barry Trotz countered. “If they say they don’t, they’re lying to you. We’re pushing. We’re trying to get in.”
The Islanders (44-26-7), shut out for the fifth time and the third time in five games, fell to third place, three points behind the first-place Capitals, who beat the visiting Hurricanes, 4-1, on Tuesday night. The idle Penguins, who have the same 95 points, moved past the Islanders into into second place based on the goal-differential tiebreaker.
“It’s a little bit in the back of our mind,” goalie Thomas Greiss said of trying to clinch a playoff spot. “Most important, you just want to play good hockey and have a good run into the playoffs.”
Greiss made 29 saves after winning the first three games against the Blue Jackets, including two shutouts. Trotz opted to start him despite Robin Lehner getting two wins this weekend, including 31 saves in a 2-0 victory over the Coyotes on Sunday afternoon at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“I think Greisser probaby wanted a couple back,” Trotz said. “When he’s on, those don’t go in.”
“It wasn’t my best game,” Greiss added.
Sergei Bobrovsky earned his eighth shutout with 26 saves for the Blue Jackets (42-30-4), who remained two points behind the Canadiens for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.
Unlike these teams’ past two games, it was the Blue Jackets who played with the lead and squeezed the Islanders’ defensively. That was especially true after defenseman Johnny Boychuk turned the puck over at the Blue Jackets’ blue line and Artemi Panarin’s breakaway made it 2-0 at 2:38 of the third period with a shot off Greiss’ glove. Oliver Bjorkstrand’s short-side wrist shot from the left after an odd bounce off Boychuk’s clearing attempt around the glass pushed it to 3-0 at 11:14. Cam Atkinson added an empty-netter.
“The first couple of periods we’d done some good things,” center Brock Nelson said. “Down a goal, you’re one shot away. We need to come out better in the third.”
The Blue Jackets had taken an early lead after the Islanders were called for too many men for the second time in three games at 4:00 of the first period with Casey Cizikas caught over the boards That led to Ryan Dzignel’s power-play goal from the left circle to make it 1-0 at 5:43.
“Once in a while, it’s on me when I call it late,” Trotz said. “Lately, it’s just a matter of watching that guy coming to the bench. That’s just a mental error. That’s a cardinal sin.”
It snapped Greiss’ shutout streak against the Blue Jackets of 157:10 and his string of 80 straight saves against them.