It was almost unfathomable a month ago, yet the Columbus Blue Jackets suddenly find themselves in the thick of a playoff race.
Nick Foligno scored twice in a club-record 51 seconds and the Blue Jackets scored three goals in a span of 1:15 Friday night to beat the Calgary Flames 5-1, extending their franchise-record points streak to 12 games.
”If you would have asked anybody in the hockey world they probably never would have imagined this,” coach Todd Richards said after his team — last in the NHL with a 5-12-3 record on Feb. 24 — improved to 8-0-4 since.
”There were times I could sense it, you could feel it. Absolutely I have no crystal ball or anything like that, but those guys in there believe right now.
”That’s a very powerful thing, when you believe.”
Artem Anisimov, Colton Gillies and Jared Boll also had goals and Sergei Bobrovsky continued his strong play with 24 saves as the Blue Jackets continued streaking.
R.J. Umberger and Derek MacKenzie each had two assists and Gillies had an assist to go with his first goal of the season.
”We understood how important this was,” Foligno said of the Blue Jackets’ 3-0-2 homestand. ”We understood if we were going to make a push for the playoffs it was going to have to come from our homestand. We put ourselves in a great position. But the job’s not done.”
After their run at home, the Blue Jackets — close to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West — will be road-tested.
They play their next four away, starting at Nashville on Saturday, and will play 12 of their final 17 regular-season games on the road.
”It’s a great challenge and we all have to embrace it,” Richards said. ”We have no choice. But in life and in hockey (it’s) the challenging things that are more rewarding in the end.”
The two goals by Foligno and one by Anisimov in 75 seconds also were the fastest three goals by the Blue Jackets.
”You get a goal, you follow up with another and all of a sudden the tide’s turning,” said Umberger.
Curtis Glencross scored for the Flames, who have lost their past nine road games (0-8-1).
”It was just like deja vu,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said of the giveaways and mistakes that cost his club. ”There were turnovers in our zone and pucks in our net. There’s not much more to say.”
Bobrovsky, the third star in the NHL last week after being the first star the week before, was at his best in the second period when the Flames controlled the play for most of the way — until the Blue Jackets broke loose.
Calgary had dominated the first 13 minutes, tying the game, setting the pace, keeping the puck in the offensive zone and forcing the Blue Jackets to play defensively.
Then, the Jackets got going on offense.
At the 13:05 mark, Foligno’s seemingly innocent shot in traffic somehow slipped through two defenders and a teammate and slid through Miikka Kiprusoff’s pads.
After celebrating, the same line stayed on the ice. Foligno dug the puck off the right wall to Umberger, who fed Foligno for a rising wrister from the high slot.
The two goals in 51 seconds were the fastest by a Blue Jacket, erasing the mark of 1:29 set by Umberger in 2009.
”Never (done anything) like that,” said Foligno, who scored three goals in 30 games and then two in less than a minute. ”That was pretty funny.”
Before those goals were even announced, Calgary’s Lee Stempniak had an awful giveaway. He slid an attempted clearing pass directly to Anisimov, who unloaded with a one-timer from the rim of the right circle.
That made it three goals in 1:15, turning a 1-1 tie into a rout. Kiprusoff even had to fight off a couple more good scoring chances on an ensuing power play.
Anisimov’s goal made it three scores in 11:15, easily eclipsing the club mark of 1:46, set in the franchise’s first season in 2000.
The Flames didn’t find it as funny as Foligno did.
”They’re a team that works hard,” Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. ”Every time you come in here you know that. They haven’t had a lot of success here but they always work hard and give you a tough game.”
Suddenly, though, the Blue Jackets are having success.
Notes: The Blue Jackets are just 6-5-2 when scoring first, while the Flames are 2-9-3 after falling behind 1-0. … Calgary was playing a quick back-to-back on the road before returning home to play St. Louis on Sunday. … Scouts from Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Chicago, San Jose, Toronto and Tampa Bay were in attendance. … The Blue Jackets killed two penalties and have not allowed a 5-on-4 power-play goal since Feb. 18 at Anaheim.