The Columbus Blue Jackets would be a far more dangerous threat in the Metropolitan Division standings this season if they hadn't been slaughtered by injuries, and they appeared to want to deliver that message to the first-place New York Islanders Saturday night.
The Isles would have none of it.
They opened 2-0 (Josh Bailey with both goals) and 3-2 leads, only to cough them up in the last minute of the first and second periods, respectively. They stood up for each other without crossing the line when agitators like Scott Hartnell and Nick Foligno tried to get all playoff-y.
And most importantly, they recovered from those lost leads to surge away in the third period to a 6-3 win, Frans Nielsen scoring the go-ahead goal and John Tavares providing both insurance goals.
The Blue Jackets are a good, feisty team (particularly when healthy) and disabused the Isles of the notion that they might run away with the game after the 2-0 lead. Things were looking great when Tavares and Anders Lee got the assists on both of Bailey's goals, with Tavares turning Jack Johnson around in circles behind the net before feeding Bailey for the second.
The Isles got a power play with a chance to make it 3-0 when Hartnell took out Travis Hamonic on an interference along the boards. Colin McDonald stepped into stick up for Hamonic, but before McDonald and Hartnell could fight Hamonic rose and hog-tied Hartnell to the ice. Hartnell got four minutes, Hamonic got two.
The Isles couldn't convert on the power play (neither team converted on four opportunities), and ... well then the final five minutes of the first belonged to Columbus. The Blue Jackets erased the lead with Brandon Dubinsky sniping top shelf past Jaroslav Halak, and Cam Atkinson slipping one by Halak after a bouncing puck at the Isles blueline slipped by Brian Strait.
After Ryan Strome regained the lead in the second period, Hamonic and Hartnell found each other again. Foligno took crosschecks at Brock Nelson after the whistle, then Hartnell stepped into deliver his own shot. That's when Hamonic took the opportunity to intervene, and he and Hartnell exchanged a rain of punches.
The Isles outshot Columbus 17-7 in the second -- that period accounts for the 46-37 shot advantage overall -- but Foligno's goal with 32 seconds left meant the teams would again go to the intermission tied.
But just two minutes into the third, Nielsen converted a bouncing puck on the back door after a brilliant pinch and pass from the left wing boards by Thomas Hickey. Tavares would get his two goals first by fishing a puck out from skates in the slot, then by leading a rush and give-and-go with Bailey at the blueline before freezing the Blue Jacket defense and potting a wrist shot past Columbus goalie Anton Forsberg.
Lost in the four-point night for Tavares and three-point night for Bailey -- the Isles had him double-shifting in the last minute to try for the hat trick -- was a four-assist night for their linemate Anders Lee, who came into the night with a "Cy Young" 18-6 stat line on the season but left it to the chorus of "Yes! Yes! Yes!" with a more balanced 18 goals and 10 assists.
The win leaves the Isles with 75 points, 37 wins, and an absurd 17-2 record against the rest of the Metro, with the next two games also coming against division foes.
Quote of the Night
"Too many Polish guys tonight."
--Butch Goring, on calling a game that involves ex-Isle James Wisniewski and current Isle Lubomir Visnovsky