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Out to boost playoff chances, Isles host slumping Jackets

Dec 27, 2022; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Sebastian Aho (25) and New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield (24) celebrate the goal by New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders, fresh off their most convincing set of back-to-back regular-season wins in almost 30 years, are eager to maintain the every-other-day pace of the schedule.

But for the slumping and undermanned Columbus Blue Jackets, an unexpected lengthy break arrived at the perfect time.

The Islanders will look to continue their recent surge Thursday night, when they host the Blue Jackets in a battle of Metropolitan Division rivals in Elmont, N.Y.

The Islanders recorded their second straight decisive victory Tuesday night, when they returned from the Christmas break with a 5-1 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blue Jackets haven’t played since Friday, when they fell to the host Chicago Blackhawks 5-2.

New York went into the Christmas break with a 5-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Friday. The Islanders last won consecutive regular-season games by at least four goals on Feb. 19-21, 1994, when they beat the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals by identical 4-0 scores.

These back-to-back lopsided wins provided a much-needed boost to the Islanders, who fell out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference by going 5-6-2 in their first 13 games after Thanksgiving. They entered Wednesday one point behind the Penguins and New York Rangers in the race for the two wild-card spots in the East. Pittsburgh was slated to host the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.

The Islanders are off Friday and Saturday before beginning a stretch of four games on the West Coast in six days beginning Sunday.

“The race is so tight,” Islanders center Mathew Barzal told Newsday after he scored twice Tuesday night. “It seems like one week you’re a lock for the playoffs and the next week you could be out of the playoffs. Just crucial wins against good teams.”

The Blue Jackets were slated to be one of the 24 teams returning to action Tuesday before their road game against the Buffalo Sabres was postponed due to the record-setting snowfall in the Buffalo area.

The couple extra days off came in handy for the Blue Jackets, who have lost six straight and headed into the Christmas break with eight players on injured reserve and goalie Elvis Merzlikins battling COVID-19. Another player, star right winger Patrik Laine, was diagnosed with COVID-19 during the holiday hiatus.

“There’s no avoiding it,” Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen told The Columbus Dispatch. “It’s an infirmary of guys that are out for a while so we’re going to have to figure this out.”

The Blue Jackets got a little closer to whole Friday, when defenseman Adam Boqvist returned from a broken foot and goalie Joonas Korpisalo returned from a lower-body injury against the Blackhawks. But it wasn’t enough as Columbus — mired in last place in the Metropolitan — lost by at least two goals for the fifth time during its losing streak and the 19th time this season.

–Field Level Media