It was a special night with a disappointing ending, as the New York Islanders lost the final regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum 5-4 in a shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Playing in front of a packed, emotional and loud Coliseum, the Islanders and Blue Jackets played a wild regular-season finale, combining for six goals in the third period. The Islanders unloaded a season-high 52 shots on goal, but Cam Atkinson netted the game-decider in the fourth round of the shootout.
“We played well,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We have 101 points and no one projected where we were going to be today. I’m very pleased with the effort the guys put in.”
Eric Boulton, John Tavares and Nikolay Kulemin scored third-period goals, giving the Islanders 3-1 and later a 4-3 lead, but the Blue Jackets chipped away, with Scott Hartnell tying the score with 1:35 to play in regulation.
“We didn’t do a good enough job when we had the lead,” Tavares said. “We fought hard, I thought we played a pretty good game. We pumped 50 shots. We have to be better in the late stages of games. We had our opportunities. We let it slip.”
The Islanders also held a lead in the shootout, as Tavares scored on the opening shot to put his club ahead. Kyle Okposo hit the post on the next opportunity, but that’s as close as the Islanders came. Alexander Wennberg and Atkinson scored in the third and fourth rounds, giving the Blue Jackets their 12th win in 13 games.
“They got a bounce,” Capuano said. “Ten minutes into the third they didn’t have a sniff. We dominated the game.”
Capuano was referring to Brandon Dubinsky’s goal at 9:37 of the third period, a crazy bounce from behind the net off Josh Bailey’s skate and Jaroslav Halak’s pad. The goal made it 3-2 and revived the Blue Jackets, who scored 1:34 later on a delayed penalty call.
Kulemin gave the Islanders the lead shortly after, skating to the front of the net and potting Tavares’ rebound past Curtis McElhinney at 15:36. The assist was Tavares’s second point of the game, but the Islanders captain missed the NHL’s scoring title by one point, as Dallas’ Jamie Benn scored four points against the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
Again, the Blue Jackets tied the score, as Hartnell jumped off the bench as the extra attacker and beat Jaroslav Halak through a screen from the high slot. The loss proved costly, as the Islanders let home-ice advantage slip away.
“It’s disappointing,” Tavares said. “The way the crowd was today was incredible. We felt the urgency. I thought we brought that. We had the opportunity in front of us, but didn’t capitalize. You just have to get over it. It’s a new season now. We’re playing some more hockey and we’re looking forward to our fans being behind us.”
The game had a nasty tone, especially early, as the teams combined for 10 penalties and several scrums in the first period. The Islanders carried much of the opening period, outshooting the Blue Jackets 20-10, generating three breakaways, as well as other quality scoring chances. The Islanders rued the missed chances, as the Blue Jackets opened the scoring with 10 seconds to play in the first. Halak stopped David Savard’s initial shot at the side of the net, as well as Boone Jenner’s sweeping rebound, but Atkinson potted the loose puck to the give the Jackets at 1-0 advantage on the power play.
The Islanders evened the score midway through the second period. With a play developing behind the net, Kyle Okposo found his way into the slot. Josh Bailey fed the puck from below the goal line and Okposo made no mistake, snapping the puck past Curtis McElhinney at 11:02.
The Islanders jumped on the Blue Jackets early in the third, netting two goals in 55 seconds. Boulton was in the right place at the right time, as he corralled Nick Leddy’s fanned shot and slid it around a downed McElhinney at 2:52.
The Islanders struck again, as Okposo circled behind the net and fed Tavares for a one-timer that the captain put upstairs.
McElhinney finished the game with 48 saves, while Halak stopped 33-of-37.
“We had a chance to win, but didn’t,” Okposo said. “A new season is about to start. It is what it is.”
The Islanders will meet the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs.