UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Through ups and downs, the New York Islanders have beaten four straight teams that likely won’t be joining them in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Up next, however, is another matchup with the New York Rangers. Even though their biggest rivals have lost all three meetings with them, the Islanders know that more will be at stake Monday.
“Obviously a huge one,” said Islanders captain John Tavares, who had two goals and two assists in a 6-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night. “We know what the atmosphere will be like.”
The Islanders have been thriving at home, winning the first three of a four-game homestand and five of six overall.
Their previous five games had all been decided by one goal, but a three-goal outburst in the third period provided breathing room against the Blue Jackets, who had already rallied twice to tie the game.
“For the most part we dictated that game,” Tavares said. “Even though they fought back and got into it, we seemed to keep the momentum and not let them really try to turn the tide.”
Josh Bailey scored two goals in the first period, both set up by Tavares, and Anders Lee had four assists for New York. Ryan Strome and Frans Nielsen also scored, and Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves.
Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, and Nick Foligno had goals for Columbus, which beat Philadelphia at home on Friday. Anton Forsberg stopped 40 shots as Columbus began a five-game trip.
“We certainly had our chance heading into the third and we didn’t take advantage of it,” forward Scott Hartnell said. “The back to back is no excuse.
“They earned their chances and did the most with them. We gave them so many opportunities.”
Nielsen put the Islanders ahead for good when he converted Thomas Hickey’s slap pass 1:54 into the third for his first goal in 13 games. Tavares made it 5-3 with 12:52 remaining and then gave New York a three-goal lead — off an assist from Bailey — with 8:45 left on his 26th goal.
The resilient Blue Jackets, who won Friday for the first time this season when trailing after two periods, got even 3-3 by scoring in the final minute for the second straight period Saturday. Hartnell sent a pass out front to the driving Foligno for his 22nd of the season with 31.2 seconds remaining.
“They’ve got nothing to lose,” Halak said of Columbus. “They just want to go out there and grab the two points.”
The Islanders had gone in front 3-2 at 7:02 when a turnover by Kevin Connauton led to a shot by Lubomir Visnovsky. Strome put in the rebound for his 10th goal. The Islanders outshot Columbus 17-7 in the second.
New York came out flying and threatened to run the Blue Jackets out of the arena. The Islanders scored on their first shot and Bailey made it 2-0 at 8:21.
Then it all changed.
After dominating the first half of the first period at even strength, the Islanders generated little while up a man. The Blue Jackets found their legs and quickly got back into it.
Dubinsky cut the deficit in half with 4:15 left in the period with his fifth of the season and second in two nights. The Blue Jackets got even with 31.5 seconds remaining when Islanders defenseman Brian Strait gave up the puck at his blue line, and Atkinson took it in alone and scored his 13th.
“I don’t think there was necessarily any panic in our game,” Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. “We’ve been playing these close games as of late and we had a great third period from top to bottom.”
New York also squandered a two-goal lead to Toronto on Thursday before winning 3-2. Bailey and Tavares connected twice in less than 9 minutes to start this one.
Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson turned over the puck behind his net to Tavares, who flung it in front. The puck caromed off Anders Lee to Bailey, who was alone in front for the goal at 1:07 on the Islanders’ first shot.
Johnson was again involved with Tavares, who held off the defensemen as he carried behind the net. He sent a pass along the blue line to Bailey, who from an improbable angle to Forsberg’s left squeezed in his 11th goal.
“Sometimes it can be tough for a goalie going post to post,” Bailey said. “I was a little surprised to see it go in but certainly happy about it.”
NOTES: Dubinsky had gone nine games without a goal before Friday. ... Forsberg played for the second time in six games but it was just his fourth appearance of the season. ... Halak made his 12th start in 14 games.