There are games that simply must be won to be considered a viable playoff contender.
The Blue Jackets are injury-plagued, forced to play several neophytes and entered play on Saturday tied for last overall in the NHL. That they gave a great effort in their pace and energy did not diminish the necessity for the Islanders to win.
They needed to rally three times from one-goal deficits. But the Islanders did just enough for a 4-3 overtime win at UBS Arena on Zach Parise’s goal off Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s feed 39 seconds into the three-on-three period.
“Every game is two points, whether we’re playing the [Stanley Cup champion] Avalanche or we’re playing Columbus,” said defenseman Scott Mayfield, who tied the game at 3-3 at 12:51 of the third period as he lifted a backhander in the slot.
“Every guy can play in this league. Every team can play. When they do have an influx of guys, it sometimes creates more speed, a little bit more chaos out there because you’re not used to playing some of the guys.”
Ilya Sorokin made 26 saves and Brock Nelson scored twice on a career-high 10 shots for the Islanders (10-6-0). Joonas Korpisalo stopped 42 shots for the Blue Jackets (4-9-1) as the Islanders tied a season high for shots.
“I thought our team played pretty well, for the most part,” coach Lane Lambert said as the Islanders won for the eighth time in 10 games. “We came back and we generated a lot of shot volume, which is something we were looking to do. It’s a hard league and every game is a hard game. There isn’t any free ice out there. I thought it was a battle.”
The Blue Jackets, whose minus-23 goal differential is the second worst in the NHL, snapped a five-game losing streak with a 5-2 win over the visiting Flyers on Thursday. But they lost defensemen Zach Werenski (separated shoulder) and Nick Blankenburg (ankle) to long-term injuries. They joined defensemen Adam Boqvist (broken foot) and Erik Gudbranson (upper-body) along with forwards Justin Danforth (shoulder), Sean Kuraly (upper-body) and Jakub Voracek (upper-body) as unavailable.
Emil Bemstrom, Brendan Gaunce and defenseman Gavin Bayreuther dressed for just the second time this season, defenseman Marcus Bjork made his NHL debut and defenseman Jake Christiansen was making his season debut.
Bjork’s first NHL goal, a blast from inside the right circle after Mathew Barzal’s turnover, gave the Blue Jackets a 3-2 lead at 9:38 of the third period.
“I thought we had good energy as a team and even though we were down, I thought we were doing good things and found a way to come back,” said Nelson, who tied the game at 1 at 7:27 of the second period as he redirected Mayfield’s feed to the crease and made it 2-2 with 44.6 seconds left in the second period as he converted defenseman Sebastian Aho’s feed to the right.
“People will probably look [at the Blue Jackets’ lineup] and think the game will be easy. I don’t think that’s how we viewed the game. It was a tough game.”
The Blue Jackets opened the scoring on Cole Sillinger’s power-play goal at 3:09 of the second period as the Islanders’ penalty kill has given up at least one goal in seven of the last eight games.
“Everybody does their best to clear pucks,” Lambert said. “Right now, we’re struggling, at times, in that area. There’s no question we do not want to give up power-play goals like this.”
Bemstrom lifted a backhander at the crease to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead at 10:15 of the second period.