In 2014-15 the Metropolitan Division quickly became a four-team race, but there was one team that by all preseason analysis should have made it a five-team one. Proving once again that injuries absolutely are a good excuse -- and a damned good one -- the Columbus Blue Jackets have been decimated by health carnage all season long.
If you think the New York Islanders' fall from 2013 playoff whipper-snappers to 2014 disappointments was at least partly injury-induced, it's got nothing on the plague that befell the Blue Jackets after their similar Penguins-frightening surge to the postseason in 2014.
But now, with the exception of Ryan Murray (whose NHL career thus far has personified "cursed"), the Blue Jackets have their key players back to health, and it's showing in their on-ice results: seven wins in a row, nine wins in their last 10, and an 11-4 record in March.
Now the Islanders, who didn't have the fortune of playing the Blue Jackets during the first three months of the season, face them twice in their final five games, including the final regular season game in Nassau Coliseum's history.
If bad blood doesn't generate over the next week, we can fully expect it next season.
Jaroslav Halak will start opposite Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, but characteristic of just about the entire last month, the Islanders will not be fielding their optimal lineup.
As some speculated when looking at the Blue Jackets' collection of fighting members, Eric Boulton returns for yet one(?) more resurrection. When that news was announced, Jack Capuano did not declare which forward he would bump from the lineup. He did explain his view on putting Boulton in for his sixth game and 36th minute of the season:
Boulton is a good leader, he’s an older guy, he’s been through this before and gives us that physical presence that we need and that emotion on the bench during the course of the game that we need as well.
Unspoken there is that Jared Boll -- whose presence in the lineup provokes the same (or worse) reaction among Blue Jackets fans -- is on the other side.
Anyway, it's not just up front where the Isles will leave surer-handed and fleeter-of-foot skaters on the sidelines. Calvin de Haan will sit again, with Brian Strait in his de Haan's most-common spot next to Travis Hamonic.
The Isles are tied (but currently hold the tiebreaker) with the Penguins for second place in the Metro and home ice in the first round. They are one point ahead of the Capitals. All three teams have five games remaining. If they want home ice as badly as they say they do, this game, like all of them, is big.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. Don't pick de Haan.