The New York Islanders swept the Columbus Blue Jackets and kept pace in their Metropolitan Division playoff push, but a casualty of their 4-3 win in Brooklyn was the loss of their most-depended upon defenseman.
Possibly more significant than the outcome of the game was the fact Travis Hamonic left the game in the first period with what looked like a knee injury, bringing to mind too many bad memories from the end of last season.
Otherwise it was mostly a fine night for the Isles, who were outstanding in the first period, still good in the second, but entered the second intermission with just a 3-2 lead. A Columbus equalizer early in the third made things uncomfortable, but the Isles got some luck from good work on an Anders Lee power play goal to regain the lead.
Lee's goal withstood video review and held up as the winner thanks to a late penalty kill, some Thomas Greiss saves, some stickless Frans Nielsen shot blocks, and the good ol' goal post.
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If Greiss was big with the game on the line late, he basically owed his team that. (That's assuming he "owes" them anything after saving their bacon in many of his appearances this season.)
The Isles outshot the Blue Jackets 15-2 in the first period, but Greiss was beaten cleanly by Brandon Dubinsky for the first goal of the game. (It was on a two-on-one where Dubinsky carved out ample space for a one-on-the-goalie attempt, but still...)
After a string of Isles goals during their first-period surge gave them a 3-1 lead, Greiss mishandled a Brandon Saad shot on a second-period penalty kill to allow the Blue Jackets to pull within one.
Boone Jenner's tying goal early in the third period was a good behind-the-net play by Columbus, but you could still fault Greiss for being slow to read the setup and low-angle shot.
After that, however, the Isles needed him and they delivered. Jenner's goal came at 0:37 of the third, and the Isles answered five minutes later. Some hairy moments and strong saves from the German -- one on Hartnell, another on Saad -- marked the remaining 15 minutes. The penalty kill in the final two minutes required all hands on deck, particularly after the Blue Jackets pulled Sergei Bobrovsky for an extra attacker and Nielsen lost his stick at the blueline. Nielsen blocked one shot with his skate, another with his upper body, and the Isles cleaned up whatever else got through.
After the penalty kill was over, Nick Leddy narrowly missed scoring an empty net goal on a lofting backhand from center ice...but he wasn't over the red line, so the icing call brought more pressure until the final whistle.
- John Tavares scored the first of two on a pretty cross-ice give-and-go with Ryan Strome, an occasion where Strome was absolutely right to defer to the captain, who made no mistake with his shot past an outstretched Bobrovsky.
- Thomas Hickey's looping shot at 17:51 gave the Isles a 2-1 lead. Not sure how Bobrovsky missed it.
- Nikolay Kulemin played a "Barclays Center bounce" off the end boards across the top of the crease to Tavares, who scored to make it 3-1 at 18:32. That was Tavares' 29th of the season.
- Lee's winner was another end boards bounce, and a karmic one: As he battled with Dalton Prout, who fought him earlier to add to some dirty work in front of the net earlier in the game, Prout's skate kicked the puck toward the net, glancing off Lee's skate on its way into the goal.
One more footnote from MSG: This is the first five-game season sweep by the Islanders since 1997-98 over the Lightning, back when Vincent Lecavalier was the "Michael Jordan of hockey."
Capuano: No update on Hamonic. Says he's "tough," if he didn't come back there is obvious something there. Hopes to know more Fri #Isles— Dan Savarino (@DanSavarino) April 1, 2016
More from Capuano, via Isles PR:
"He's a big piece. He's a minute cruncher on the back end and one of the top guys in the league. As a coach you worry about that a little bit, especially with the injuries we have now - with some really key guys out of our lineup. Hopefully, we will get an update tomorrow to kind of see where we are at with him and hopefully, it's not too severe."
With the win the Islanders (93 points) keep pace with the Penguins (96 points), who won at home over Nashville, climb closer to the Rangers (95 points), who lost in Carolina, and pull further away from the Flyers (89), Red Wings (87) and Bruins (88) in the battle for the final two wild card spots and/or third Atlantic spot.
(As it happens, the Isles finished the game the same amount of points as the top two teams in the Atlantic. Florida won a little later, however -- and despite a rat-based penalty! -- to move up to 95 points.)
The Isles have a game in hand on both the Penguins and Rangers, each of whom they will face one more time in the final six games.
The Penguins are next, Saturday in Brooklyn.