Isles Dominate Columbus 5-2, Remain Atop Metropolitan Division

If you believe in omens, scoring 31 seconds into the game isn't a bad sign if you're an Islander fan.  At the end of the night the New York Islanders topped the Columbus Blue Jackets in dominating fashion, winning 5-2 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, setting the stage for what should be a great game Tuesday night against the Rangers.

Nikolai Kulemin opened the scoring on a deflection to beat all-star Sergei Bobrovsky as the Isles took the opening faceoff and went to work against the Blue Jackets.  While the Jackets would tie the game on the power play less than four minutes later, the first period saw the Isles outshoot Columbus 16-4, a game they would ultimately outshoot their opponent 40-18.

The Islanders struck three times in the second period, beginning with a Matt Martin re-direct from a nifty Ryan Strome pass and ended with much-maligned Brian Strait chopping one past Bobrovsky for a 4-1 lead after two.  Anders Lee scored between the two on a breakaway after the puck hopped over the stick of a Columbus defenseman and Lee was able to squeeze it between Bobrovsky's legs. 

When Brian Strait scores, it's just your night, and even a three-goal lead jinx can't shake that.  No truth to the rumor that hell has frozen over either.

While Columbus would cut the lead to 4-2 just 3:33 into the third period, the game never got away from the Islanders who continued to apply pressure and create offense against a Blue Jackets' squad that couldn't handle the speed of the Islanders.  However, it wasn't until Kyle Okposo scored, with a little bit of luck, with just over five minutes remaining in the game before Islander fans were able to exhale. 

It was a strong road game at a venue that had been a sort of "house of horrors" for the Islanders, winning only once previously in 10 games at Nationwide Arena.  Backup goaltender Chad Johnson picked up the victory, his first since November 21st.  He didn't need to be spectacular, but made several big stops in the first 40 minutes when the game was still in question.  The performance won't erase all of the lingering questions about the backup position, but anytime you can go on the road with your backup and your seventh defenseman in the lineup and come away with two points, you take it and run.

The win also improved the Islanders' record against the Metropolitan Division to a tidy 12-2-0.  Last season the team finished 10-16-4 against division foes, so it's no surprise the dramatic turnaround this season has the Islanders atop the division. 

While the victory was emphatic, there is still work to be done. The powerplay still looks off and couldn't muster much of anything with the game still undecided.  It took an undisciplined Blue Jackets' team in the final few minutes, putting the Islanders up with a two-man advantage, before the powerplay looked competent passing the puck around while never truly threatening to shoot.  Call it mercy.

And about those last powerplays?  Serial knucklehead Brandon Dubinsky apparently took exception to the Islanders having the top unit out on the powerplay late in the game and two-handed Okposo on back of the leg for a penalty.  While it would have been preferable for someone on the ice to knock him down, what happened next is exactly why this team needs to re-sign Johnny Boychuk at all costs:

The man started firing away with bombs from the point with seconds remaining.  He wasn't trying to score with those shots...he was trying to put the puck through a Blue Jacket.  Boychuk performed the equivalent of challenging the entire Blue Jackets' roster and basically demonstrated to everyone what a championship swagger looks like.  Don't think for a second this fan didn't notice.  In the words of Teddy KGB: "pay that man his money."

The win kept the Islanders atop the division as apparently the top four Metropolitan teams never lose anymore (maybe it was written into the new CBA that way?)  The win was a perfect way for the Islanders to start their second half of the season and now stand 28-13-1 with a showdown looming at MSG on Tuesday.

About Tuesday night. It isn't a "must-win" by any means.  Both the Islanders and Rangers are showing that they'll be playing April hockey, the only question being who they open up with.  The Rangers are white-hot now, winning 13 of 14  (basically what the Islanders did in November), and are feeling confident and have their fans back to their arrogant selves.  The Islanders whipped the Rangers once already this season, but another victory Tuesday would be a nice way to smack some reality back into their collective face.  It should be a great game with an incredible atmosphere.

However, the team has two days before then to enjoy this victory.  It was another perfect weekend for the Islanders, first with the John Tavares' show on Friday night and then just blitzing the Blue Jackets Saturday.  This fan never gets tired of these weekends.

Follow me on Twitter @mikepac23 for my Islander thoughts and be sure to follow @TCLIsles for Islander news and analysis.