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Nabokov blanks playoff-hopeful Blue Jackets
By IRA PODELL
UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) This weekend version of New York, New York could cost the Columbus Blue Jackets the playoff spot they are desperate to grab.
The Blue Jackets gave everything they had at home in a loss to the playoff-hopeful New York Rangers on Friday night and followed it up with a disheartening 2-0 defeat on Sunday to the New York Islanders, who are just playing out the string.
"It's the NHL. The other team is paid to play, too," defenseman Jack Johnson said. "There is no easy teams. Nobody took them lightly, nobody didn't understand the gravity of the situation, we just didn't score a goal."
Evgeni Nabokov made 41 saves in his 58th NHL shutout, and Travis Hamonic scored a coast-to-coast, power-play goal in the second period to pace the Islanders, who are third to last in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus had a total of 24 shots in the first two periods and then fired 17 in a desperate final frame when the Blue Jackets had four of their six power plays.
"If you can't come and push yourself every night, go do putt-putt or something," Johnson said. "Everyone tried. We knew how important this one was. I can't question anyone's effort. It was just a tough game."
The Blue Jackets' power play has gone 0 for 35 the past nine games. They will have to get better over the final 11 games, starting with a key home matchup on Tuesday against Detroit, which is neck and neck with Columbus in the playoff race.
Columbus, which has dropped to fifth in the Metropolitan Division, has fallen out of an Eastern Conference playoff position. The Blue Jackets have lost three of four.
"These points are huge right now," center Ryan Johansen said. "Against a team like the Islanders, who are playing spoiler right now, it's very frustrating. We've got to learn from it but we can't dwell on this."
Nabokov got the best of Russian counterpart Sergei Bobrovsky in their third meeting this season and posted his third shutout in this campaign. It was just the Islanders' second regulation win ever over the Blue Jackets.
Cal Clutterbuck also scored for the Islanders, who bounced back from a 6-0 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday and finished a 2-2 homestand.
"We were playing hard for our fans. We worked hard and we found a way to win," Nabokov said. "We knew they were playing a third game in four (days) and we wanted to make it tough for them."
Bobrovsky made 30 saves before he was pulled for an extra skater with 1:50 left as Columbus began its final power play.
"There is no time to rant and rave," forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "We've got to be ready to go for our next game.
"We certainly need to be a lot better than we were today."
Hamonic gave the Islanders' struggling power play a lift with a stunning, end-to-end rush up the middle of the ice that produced his second goal of the season with just 51.7 seconds left in the middle period.
The defenseman started from behind his net and skated alone on a straight line toward the center ice logo. He eluded R.J. Umberger in the neutral zone, carried the puck across the blue line and then snapped a shot from the slot over Bobrovsky's left shoulder for his first goal since Oct. 29 - a span of 45 games.
"I was glad to get that scoring chance and finish it," Hamonic said. "Nice to chip in offensively, but I work to bring a defense presence first.
"I was just fortunate to get my feet moving and score."
New York had two failed power plays earlier in the second. The first generated little as the Islanders couldn't get organized. The second produced several potential scoring chances, including a seemingly open net for Frans Nielsen to shoot at, but his drive from the right circle hit the outside of the net.
The Islanders took a 1-0 lead when Clutterbuck scored his 10th goal just eight seconds after serving a roughing penalty. Johan Sundstrom, in his fourth career NHL game, swung behind the Columbus net and attempted to score on a wraparound at the left post. The puck caromed in front to Nielsen, who nudged it into the slot to Clutterbuck for a shot that beat Bobrovsky with 6:34 left in the first.
It was the first career point for Sundstrom, who made his debut on March 14.
NOTES: The Islanders' only other regulation win over the Blue Jackets since Columbus joined the NHL for the 2000-01 season was a 4-0 home victory on Dec. 23, 2006. ... The Blue Jackets fell to 11-2-4 against the Islanders and 4-2-2 at Nassau Coliseum. ... Hamonic has 12 goals in 241 career NHL games. ... New York announced after the game it agreed to terms on a one-year extension with LW Eric Boulton.
Updated March 23, 2014