Islanders-Blue Jackets Preview
The Columbus Blue Jackets suffered what could end up being a devastating loss in their last game.
Picking up two points against a team already eliminated from playoff contention would go a long way toward erasing that bitter memory.
Columbus' resiliency will be put to the test Sunday when it faces the New York Islanders trying to avoid a seventh loss in eight home games.
With every point of great importance as the Blue Jackets (39-31-7) try to secure the franchise's second-ever playoff berth, they appeared set to get at least one Friday in the waning seconds of regulation. But Chicago's Ben Smith tapped in a rebound with 3.7 seconds left on a wild scrum to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 victory.
''We came up 3 seconds short,'' said defenseman Dalton Prout, part of the pile of players trying to clear the puck as time sifted away.
Despite the regulation loss, Columbus maintained its hold on the second wild card in the Eastern Conference with a one-point lead over Toronto and charging New Jersey.
''I went in and told the players, `It's a hard loss but we've got to move past it,''' coach Todd Richards said. ''You can't let your highs get too high. And right now we can't let the lows get too low. This group has been pretty resilient all year. There's been times all year when people have counted us out and the guys have responded.''
One of Richards' concerns now is his team's play at home, where the Blue Jackets have totaled 15 goals while losing six of seven. That's a surprising development after they produced a 15-4-1 stretch at Nationwide Arena.
Richards figures to stick with Sergei Bobrovsky, who made 34 saves in Friday's loss. Bobrovsky has only won two of his last seven starts despite a 2.20 goals-against average. He is 9-2-0 with a 2.00 GAA lifetime against the Islanders, allowing two goals in each of the teams' three meetings this season.
Columbus continued its dominance of the Islanders with wins in the first two matchups before Evgeni Nabokov stopped 41 shots in a 2-0 victory on Long Island on March 23.
That was a rare regulation loss to the Islanders for the Blue Jackets, who are 11-2-3 with one tie in the all-time series, including 7-0-1 with one tie at home.
Though they were officially eliminated from playoff contention earlier this week, the Islanders (31-35-11) have been anything but pushovers lately. They moved to 5-0-2 in their last seven games with Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss to Washington.
''I wish we had come out on top, but we played a strong game," said rookie John Persson, who scored his first NHL goal. "The effort was there.''
Still without leading scorer Kyle Okposo (upper body) and captain John Tavares (torn MCL), New York dressed nine rookies Saturday for the seventh consecutive game.
The injuries have prompted coach Jack Capuano to move Josh Bailey to the top line, and the forward has responded with two goals and four assists during a four-game point streak.
The Islanders haven't been fazed by playing on the road, going 14-4-2 in the last 20 away from home.
Although Nabokov is 20-5-3 with a 1.79 GAA and four shutouts against Columbus, he'll likely be rested in favor of Anders Nilsson on Sunday. Nilsson has posted a 1.92 GAA during a three-game win streak.