If the Blue Jackets miss the playoffs, they can blame Thomas Greiss.
The goalie notched his second shutout against his team’s Metropolitan Division rival as the Islanders, with their invaluable fourth line intact for the first time in six games, earned a crucial 2-0 win over Columbus on Monday night before a crowd of 11,827 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“The whole team was battling, working hard,” said Greiss, who has blanked the Blue Jackets for 151:27 after making 31 saves in his fifth shutout this season, a career high. “We didn’t give them too much. We played a tight game, tight around the crease. Most of the shots came from the outside. Everybody showed up to play for us. It was an unbelievable battle level.”
The second-place Islanders (40-22-7) moved back within two points of the Capitals and opened an eight-point lead over the Blue Jackets (38-28-3), who hold the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.
“More than anything, we raised our battle level, and that’s where it starts,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “Our first period was really good. The second, not so much. In the third, you talk about commitment and battle. We probably defended more than we wanted, but they didn’t get much. We defended hard. That’s the battle level. Greisser made a couple of saves. That’s how the Islanders win.”
Sergei Bobrovsky made 20 saves for the Blue Jackets, who held an 11-4 shot advantage in the third period. The Islanders’ first shot of the period didn’t come until Mathew Barzal put one into Bobrovsky’s chest at 9:28.
Among Greiss’ third-period saves was getting to the right post to stop Oliver Bjorkstrand at 11:58. The Blue Jackets’ Cam Atkinson hit the post in both the first and second periods.
Islanders captain Anders Lee finally clinched it with an empty-net goal at 18:30 of the third period.
The Islanders have won all three games against the Blue Jackets, and Greiss also made 31 saves in a 3-0 victory at Columbus on Feb. 14.
But they had started a stretch of eight of nine at the Coliseum just 2-4-0, including a 5-2 loss to the Flyers on Saturday night. And they were 2-3-0 playing without their fourth line of Casey Cizikas centering Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck.
Martin missed four games with an upper-body injury and Clutterbuck returned Monday after missing three games with an upper-body injury.
“The first half of the game was pretty good,” Clutterbuck said. “The third period, they put on a pretty good push, but I just like the way we were in our own end. There were a couple of times guys got loose and there were some pucks laying around the crease. But it seemed like there was always one or two of us there to gobble it and go the other way.”
Trotz altered his lineup and combinations with defenseman Johnny Boychuk (upper body) unavailable. Thomas Hickey returned to the lineup for the second time in eight games since being activated off long-term injured reserve.
Andrew Ladd, who was a healthy scratch the previous two games, was placed on Brock Nelson’s right wing with Anthony Beauvillier. Barzal was moved in between Lee and Jordan Eberle, and Josh Bailey played on Valtteri Filppula’s left wing with Leo Komarov.
“We knew the importance of this one coming in,” said defenseman Ryan Pulock, whose blast from the top of the right circle over Bobrovsky’s far shoulder made it 1-0 at 6:11 of the first period.
“We haven’t been playing that well here for the last few games. I thought we came out and battled and we were sort of back to our old self.”