COLUMBUS, Ohio - The players preferred not to beat themselves up, not to dwell on an unforgivable 4-3 shootout loss that should have been a confidence-building Islanders regulation win.
Instead, it was one crucial point given away thanks to two goals allowed in the final 8:54 of regulation Thursday night to a Blue Jackets team already eliminated from playoff contention.
The Islanders could have felt even better about their own playoff position had they held that 3-1 lead, but instead it was time to watch the scoreboard after the defeat to see what happened elsewhere.
The single point allowed the Islanders to stay ahead of the Penguins, who have a game in hand. The Capitals won in a shootout to move ahead of the Isles by virtue of a tiebreaker, with both teams at 96 points and Pittsburgh at 95.
And the Isles' magic number to clinch a playoff berth ticked down to five points, with the Senators keeping pace thanks to an overtime win.
"Every point is valuable this time of year," said Ryan Strome, who buried a rebound of Travis Hamonic's shot 55 seconds into the third period to give the Isles a two-goal edge. "We've got four games left and we just have to regroup. If something like this happens in the playoffs, you've got to be able to bounce back quickly."
Strome had a chance to make it 4-1 off a superb backhand feed from John Tavares, but his shot fluttered off the post behind Sergei Bobrovsky and stayed out.
Jaroslav Halak and the Islanders got no such luck. David Savard tossed a soft wrister that pinballed through a crowd, eluded Halak's grasp and caromed to Jack Johnson, who chipped the puck home to make it 3-2 with 8:54 to go.
The Blue Jackets, winners of eight straight, sprang to life and peppered Halak with shots in the next three minutes, but he shut the door.
Inside of four minutes left, though, another bouncer skipped in. Savard threw another shot on net that Thomas Hickey blocked, but not fully. The puck bounced off the defenseman, went under Halak's arm and sat for Ryan Johansen to stuff in with 3:43 to play.
"Their D did a good job getting pucks to the net," Jack Capuano said. "We had good coverage. The puck found a way."
The Islanders did get a late break when the officials ruled that Cody Goloubef's clearing attempt went straight over the boards in the Columbus zone, though replays showed it might have deflected off an Islanders stick or the glass first.
But Bobrovsky shut down the Islanders' power play, just as Halak shut down the Blue Jackets' man advantage in overtime. Marc Letestu and Johansen scored in the shootout to send the Isles home frustrated but determined to move on.
"You can't dwell on the negatives this time of year," Hamonic said. "We got a point, we did some good things and we'll take it."
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