On Monday night at Nassau Coliseum, the New York Islanders needed two points to keep pace behind the Washington Capitals at the top of the Metro, while the Columbus Blue Jackets needed points to feel better about their tenuous wild card position with 13 games remaining for both.
The Islanders got exactly what they needed and Columbus got not even a consolation point in a 2-0 regulation win for the home team.
Thomas Greiss answered any questions from the weekend with a 31-save shutout, his fifth of the season. His performance made an early first-period lead stand up, though not without close calls, until the Islanders finally got an insurance tally into an empty net late in the third.
So the Islanders move up to 87 points, two behind the Capitals. The Blue Jackets remain at 79, good for the final wild card spot but tied with the Canadiens, who visit Long Island on Thursday.
The game opened like a good divisional rivalry game with much on the line should. Both teams came to play and were thorough in all three zones. The Isles got the right first bounce when, following a nice sustained offensive zone shift by the Casey Cizikas line with Call Clutterbuck and Matt Martin — their first game back and healthy together since the trouncing of the Leafs — Ryan Pulock simply blasted a rebound upstairs past Sergei Bobrovsky.
It's probably better off that nobody blocked Ryan Pulock's shot from the top of the right circle into the top left corner of the net. It was shot so hard it might have put a hole in somebody.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) March 11, 2019
Big heads-up pass and communication with Clutterbuck by Adam Pelech to keep that one in and set up the go-ahead goal. Credit to Matt Martin, too, for abandoning thoughts of self-preservation to stand in front of a full Pulock wind-up.
The Isles had good chances to extend the lead, but Bobrovsky was there. Always there.
New York also had two power plays in the first, but you know how that goes almost all the time, lately: no major threats, no goal, despite a remix (finally) of their units:
#isles PP1 - Toews, Barzal-Nelson-Eberle, Lee— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) March 11, 2019
PP2 - Pulock-Leddy, Bailey-Filppula-Beauvillier
PP2 started pretty sketchy. Bailey with a drop pass that wound up going back to Greiss
Anyway, both goalies had their share of work through the first 40 minutes and they could’ve easily entered the second intermission with either team up 3-1 or 4-3 instead of the Isles hanging on to a 1-0 lead.
Particularly so, given the share of white-knuckle chances Greiss faced in the middle frame (and two very loud clangs off the post by Cam Atkinson). But Bobrovsky kept the Isles from building a bigger lead in the first frame.
Seth Jones was especially terrifying, using his mobility to create dangerous looks out of would-be innocent dumps for a lesser defenseman. Fellow blueliner David Savard had a couple of the scarier chances too, when he simply took the puck around and angled hard to the net, requiring a sprawling Greiss glove stop at the post.
That period, to me, looked more like recent not great NYI periods than the first period. Allowed 8 high danger chances against in Pd 2, which, at times their opponents were not getting over a full game.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) March 12, 2019
As you can imagine with all that, the third period was indeed a nerve-wracking affair. The Isles were in full Trotz Mode, focusing on safe clearances and dump-ins, and protecting the house at the expense of outside looks. The refs were in full Playoff Mode, letting everything go in either direction.
The Isles were outshot 11-4 in the third, and no one in the building could breathe easy until Valtteri Filppula used some diligent board work and nifty stickhandling to set up the captain, Anders Lee, for his 24th with 90 seconds to go. That came after Bobrovsky was pulled for a sixth attacker 40 seconds prior.
Extra credit to Clutterbuck, too, who forced the forecheck and an uncertain ring around the boards by Werenski, which Lee cut off at center ice, to kick off the play.
Gotta See That Again
Props to Brock Nelson for this move that — how do they call it, “broke his ankles” in basketball? — was more than just a dangle on Zach Werenski:
If that had gone in, Lou should've signed Brock Nelson during second intermission— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) March 12, 2019
Thomas Hickey (for the injured Johnny Boychuk) was back, paired with Devon Toews, as was Andrew Ladd (for the scratched Michael Dal Colle), lined up with Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier. Hickey did a good number of Hickey things, and Ladd definitely did effective little Ladd things.
“We played Islanders hockey. More than anything we raised our battle level. First was good, second not so much, third was good. Our commitment was there. We probably defended more than we wanted to, but we didn’t give them much.”
There’s almost no let-up in the run-up to the playoffs, and the alternating nights with the Capitals’ schedule continues.
At least there’s an extra day between games here before the Islanders play the Canadiens Thursday at the Coliseum, the first of two with them this month.