Rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau is a major reason why the Calgary Flames are excited to be in position for their first playoff spot in six seasons.
The Columbus Blue Jackets won’t make the postseason, yet could match a team record and accomplish another first Saturday.
The Blue Jackets look for their sixth straight road win and fifth in a row in Calgary as they get their first look at Gaudreau.
Calgary (39-27-5) avoided a third straight loss with Thursday’s 4-1 home victory over Philadelphia. The Flames, who last reached the postseason in 2008-09, moved one point ahead of Los Angeles for the third Pacific Division playoff spot.
"We know what’s our job, we know the situation," coach Bob Hartley said. "At the same time, we’re on the job. There’s no reason to get excited. That’s the goal of any NHL player, we have to show some poise, making sure that we don’t get too high, don’t get too low."
Gaudreau had a goal and two assists to give him 12 points in his last nine games and 56 overall to lead all rookies.
”I want to be one of the top rookies in the league, and as the team is playing well and we’re playing well, we’re in the playoff race, everything seems to be going our way right now,” Gaudreau said. ”Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Gaudreau was struggling when Calgary lost 3-2 at Columbus (32-35-4) on Oct. 17. He was a healthy scratch that night after going four straight games without a shot on goal.
The Blue Jackets built a three-goal lead after two periods and moved to 7-1-2 in their last 10 against the Flames, including four straight road wins.
Columbus set the franchise record with six straight road wins Jan. 19-Feb. 18, 2011. This is the 21st time the former Western Conference club has been on a trip that included Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary; the Blue Jackets have never swept all three.
They may accomplish that Saturday. Columbus won 4-3 in a shootout over the Oilers on Wednesday and 6-2 over the Canucks the next night.
Rookie Marko Dano has half of his 14 points in the last five games, recording two goals and an assist Thursday.
”It’s a big opportunity for me to earn a spot for next year,” Dano said. ”The time (in the AHL) helped me a lot, but now I am trying to play here and trying to get a spot here for next year.”
Former Flame Curtis McElhinney made 44 saves Wednesday before Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 38 shots the next night.
Calgary will likely start Karri Ramo, who made 23 saves in the October matchup in his lone start against Columbus.
Winger Jiri Hudler leads the NHL with 14 points this month for the Flames, who are averaging a league-best 3.67 non-shootout goals in March. Teammate Sean Monahan has 10 points in that span.
Another red-hot skater this month is the Blue Jackets’ Scott Hartnell, who has 11 points in March with seven in a six-game run that is two shy of his season high.