UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- If the first game of the season between the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders is any indication, the NHL's realignment has yielded at least one new rivalry.
Cam Atkinson's shootout goal on Saturday night capped a late comeback by the Blue Jackets, who edged the Islanders 3-2 in New York's home opener at Nassau Coliseum.
Even before the shootout -- which went into sudden death before Atkinson, the fourth Blue Jackets shooter, faked Evgeni Nabokov to the left and beat him with a shot into the right-hand corner of the net -- the initial meeting between the Islanders and Blue Jackets as Metropolitan Division rivals had an exciting urgency that was likely missing from the previous 14 games played by the two teams.
"I thought tonight was an unbelievable game," Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen said. "The pace for all 60 minutes was incredibly high. I remember sitting on the bench -- I looked at Nick Foligno and I was like, 'This is a fun game. Both teams are just going crazy.'"
In a matchup of clubs that burst on to the scene during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the Islanders -- who snapped a five-season playoff drought last year and took top-seeded Pittsburgh to six games in a tense Eastern Conference quarterfinal -- seemed to be the ones building some early season momentum when Matt Moulson and Lubomir Visnovsky scored two goals in a six-minute span of the second period.
But Columbus, which gave up two goals in less than a minute in the third period of a 4-3 loss to Calgary on Friday, used the third period to return to the type of hockey it played last year when the Blue Jackets finished tied for eighth in the West but missed out on the second playoff berth in franchise history because they had fewer wins than Minnesota.
"If you look at last night's game, (the Flames) kind of poured it on in the third and we got caught playing their game," said Foligno, who scored the tying goal with 8:06 left. "Tonight we dictated the third period and dictated our game. It was huge. You saw everybody kind of just getting the confidence."
The Blue Jackets were outshot 19-12 in the first two periods before they took a 12-7 shot advantage in the third.
Mark Letestu put Columbus on the board at 7:45 when he picked up a loose puck in a scrum in front of the goal and fired it past Nabokov for a power play goal that was set up by a high sticking penalty on Travis Hamonic.
Columbus tied the score less than five minutes later when R.J. Umberger skated up the right side and dished to Foligno, whose shot glanced off Nabokov's pads and trickled in. The goal was originally credited to Johansen, who stormed in, danced around the Islanders' Brock Nelson and appeared to get a stick on the puck.
"Hard hockey," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said in describing Columbus' style. "We defended well, our goalie was great, made some huge saves for us and we were opportunistic at times. That's what we got tonight."
Both teams killed off power plays in the final minutes of regulation and had multiple point-blank chances in the five-minute overtime before Columbus took the shootout lead on it second shot when Letestu fired a shot that clanged off the top of the net and in.
Moulson promptly extended the shootout by beating Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (27 saves) with a shot into the upper left corner. Bobrovsky and Nabokov (26 saves) traded saves before Atkinson faked Nabokov to the left and beat him with a wrister into the right-hand corner of the net.
The Blue Jackets poured off the bench to celebrate their first win in the Metropolitan Division, which is the old Atlantic Division plus Columbus, a former member of the Central Division, as well as former Southeast clubs Washington and Carolina.
"That's what you want -- you want those hard, even-matched games," Johansen said. "It was great for us to come out with two points."
The Islanders, who won 4-3 in a shootout over New Jersey on Friday, were looking to start 2-0 for the sixth time in franchise history and the first time since 2007-08.
"I thought through two periods we did a really good job," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "(Columbus) ramped it up in the third."
NOTES: The Islanders scratched left winger Eric Boulton and defensemen Matt Carkner and Griffin Reinhart. The Blue Jackets scratched right winger Jared Boll and defensemen Tim Erixon and Fedor Tyutin. ... Columbus coach Todd Richards hopes Boll (upper-body injury) can return to action when the Blue Jackets visit Buffalo. ... Before Saturday night, the two teams hadn't played on Long Island since Nov. 24, 2010, when Columbus won 4-3 in overtime. ... For the Islanders, Saturday marked the first of four straight games against teams they did not face during the lockout-shortened 2013 season. New York hosts Phoenix on Tuesday before visiting Chicago and Nashville on Friday and Saturday.
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