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New York Islanders

Islanders Battle Through Blue Jackets; Reclaim Playoff Spot With Third Straight Win



AP Photo/Joe Maiorana

They haven’t been pretty, but the New York Islanders will take wins any way they can at this point of the season and are reaping the benefits of them.

For the time being, the Islanders have moved back into playoff position after picking up their third straight victory on Thursday night with a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

The Islanders have taken over the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference after the Washington Capitals lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. But even with that, the Islanders had to make sure they handled their own business against the Blue Jackets.

“It does feel like a playoff game every night,” said Mathew Barzal to reporters in Columbus. “We’re fighting for our season right now. These are the best games of the year. This is why you play. Everyone comes together with one goal in mind, and that’s to get in. I think everyone’s excited just coming down the stretch here, and playing good hockey, so it’s something we got to keep going.” 

Pierre Engvall found the game-opening goal at 7:53 of the first period on the power play.

Providing a screen in front of Columbus goalie starting goalie Daniil Tarasov, Engvall got the blade of his stick on Ryan Pulock’s shot from the point, deflecting in his ninth goal of the season and first in 11 games.

The advantage was short-lived. After Brock Nelson was called for a slashing penalty, the Blue Jackets scored a power-play goal of their own courtesy of Dmitri Voronkov at 9:45 of the frame.

The Islanders reclaimed the lead when Alexander Romanov caused a turnover in the neutral zone, creating a two-on-one chance for Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat. With a cross-ice feed from Barzal, Horvat hammered a one-timer for his third goal in as many games and team-leading 32nd of the season. Once again, though, the Blue Jackets fired the cannon in response.

Standing behind the Islanders’ goal, Kiril Marchenko flicked the puck off the mask of Ilya Sorokin and into the back net to even the score.

With a little over three minutes left until the intermission, Columbus was forced to make a change in goal as Tarasov needed help getting off the ice after his teammate, David Jiricek, accidentally hit him in the head while tied up in a race for the puck with Engvall.

Tarasov did not return to the game and was replaced in goal by Jet Greaves. He finished the evening with 13 saves on 15 shots.

Appearing in just his fourth game in the NHL this season, Greaves puzzled the Islanders in the second period. With the ice heavily tilted in their favor, the Islanders had plenty of chances to put a puck past Greaves, but the former undrafted product turned away the 14 shots they fired at him in the middle frame to keep the game tied 2-2.

“We didn’t get frustrated because it was a 2-2 game,” said Islanders coach Patrick Roy to reporters in Columbus. “We had a few good chances, but their goalie made some good saves. In the second period, I thought that it was pretty balanced. Both teams had some good chances. But I was pleased to see us remain playing with the same mindset and make sure that we stayed even keel going into the third, playing that way and playing smart hockey. We wanted to play a 200-foot game regardless.”

It wasn’t until 3:21 of the third the Islanders solved Greaves. Walking into the zone on the rush, Noah Dobson collected a pass from Barzal and ripped a shot to break the tie and his 12-game scoreless streak with his ninth goal of the season.

Barzal did what he does best,” said Dobson to reporters in Columbus. “He found me coming in and I was just happy to contribute. Obviously, it was a big goal in a big-time game, so it was nice to get that one and get the win.”

Kyle Palmieri added an insurance goal for the Islanders with 48 seconds remaining in the game when he hit an empty net.

Greaves ended what was only his fifth career NHL appearance with  24 saves on 25 shots.

In goal for the Islanders, Sorokin made 25 saves on 27 shots while starting his second consecutive game for the first time in more than a week.

The win over Columbus improved the Islanders’ record to 34-27-15, giving them 83 points. The Islanders sit a point ahead of the Capitals and Detroit Red Wings in the standings—although both those teams hold a game in hand—and two ahead of the Penguins. They’re also tied with the Philadelphia Flyers, but Philadelphia still holds the third spot in the Metropolitan Division with more regulation wins.

“We’re just trying to keep winning here. That’s the focus,” said Pulock to reporters in Columbus. “Obviously, the goal is to make the playoffs. It doesn’t matter what position we’re in now. We just got to keep winning games. At the end of the day, we find ourselves in a good spot here, and we’ll just keep going.”

The Islanders will return home to UBS Arena on Saturday to host the Nashville Predators at 7:30 p.m. EST.