Blue Jackets-Islanders Preview
The New York Islanders are focusing on the fact they're four points out of home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs rather than sitting the same amount away from being left out of the postseason altogether.
Moving ahead in the standings seems much more feasible considering how well they've played lately.
The Islanders finish the regular season with plenty of showdowns that have playoff implications, but the points are just as important Thursday night against the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets as they look to sweep the five-game season series.
New York (41-25-9) is chasing the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan and also is three points behind Pittsburgh for the division's final guaranteed playoff spot. It has won three of its last four, including back-to-back wins over Carolina after trailing heading into the third period of both.
Cal Clutterbuck scored the tying goal Saturday before winning it in overtime, and Anders Lee got the equalizer in the third before Kyle Okposo's shootout winner Tuesday.
Despite the solid stretch, the Islanders still are fighting with Philadelphia and Detroit for the wild card spots in the Eastern Conference.
They'll face the Penguins on Saturday and have matchups with co-Atlantic leader Tampa Bay, Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington and the Rangers before concluding the regular season April 10 at home against the Flyers.
"This was a huge two points and we needed to win (Tuesday)," Okposo said. "These are the games that you have to win and give us a little bit of breathing room. Other teams are going to keep winning because they seem to do every night. We just have to keep putting points in the bank every night."
The Islanders have taken 14 of a possible 16 points over the last eight meetings with the Blue Jackets (30-38-8) and have won all four this season. John Tavares' empty netter capped a 4-0 win Oct. 20, Okposo scored in overtime Dec. 12, Brock Nelson had his first hat trick Jan. 12 and Cal Clutterbuck scored the shootout winner Feb. 9.
Jaroslav Halak won three of those matchups, but he's out for at least the rest of the regular season with a groin injury. Thomas Greiss dropped his previous four starts before making 26 saves Monday.
"It's always good to get the win," Greiss said. "It's important points for the whole team and big for me."
Greiss beat the Blue Jackets in January and will look to hand them a fourth straight defeat in this one. Columbus lost 5-1 to Nashville on Saturday to begin a four-game trip and fell 4-1 to Washington on Monday.
Coach John Tortorella said his club was "overwhelmed" against the Predators and wasn't happy with the amount of power plays it handed the Capitals.
"You can't take five (penalties) against them," Tortorella. "But we're not going to complain about penalties. We can't complain about (crap). We just have to keep on trying to get better."
Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves but dropped to 2-5-0 with a 3.01 goals-against average since returning March 11 from a lower-body injury that forced him to miss the previous 19. He has a 2.13 GAA in 14 starts and one relief appearance in his career against the Islanders.
Center Boone Jenner appears ready despite losing three teeth and needing 20 stitches after taking a puck to the mouth in the first period Monday. He returned later wearing a full cage.