Blue Jackets playing for postseason as April nears
Columbus is in position for its second playoff appearance, but eight games are left to lock in a spot in the Eastern Conference.
Mar 28, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky (17) skates with the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) chases at Nationwide Arena.
Greg Bartram / USA TODAY Sports
By Rick Gethin
Over the next 13 days, the Blue Jackets will play their final eight games of the regular season. As of today, they own the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. With 82 points, they are four behind the Philadelphia Flyers (third place in the division) and six behind the second-place New York Rangers in the Metro.
It has come down to this. Who would have seriously thought back in November that Columbus would be in the mix for postseason play with two weeks remaining on the schedule? There is always the "what if" questions that will be asked, no matter how they finish the season.
What if they had beaten Pittsburgh or Boston just one time each? What if they had not had the four-game losing streak in October, followed by the five-game skid to start November?
They played the first three months of the schedule to a 17-19-4 record (38 points). They were 13th in the Eastern Conference and seventh in the Metropolitan Division as 2014 dawned. Their goal differential was -8.
Since the Jan. 2 game in Phoenix, they have gone 21-11-2 (44 points). They are in the mix for the playoffs, being chased by the likes of the Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils. Their goal differential is now a more respectable +8.
The website sportsclubstats.com has the Blue Jackets chances of making the post-season at 78.8%, as of today. After 74 games, they are 38-30-6. The rollercoaster ride of their play in the early stages of the season has been supplanted by the rollercoaster ride of the standings, both within the division and for a wildcard spot.
For them to climb into third place in the division for a guaranteed trip to the postseason, they would likely have to go 6-2-0 over the final eight games. Is this feasible for Columbus?
They have four home and four away games beginning tomorrow evening as they host the visiting Colorado Avalanche, who are 22-10-3 on the road. Four of the remaining games are against Western Conference teams (Colorado, Chicago, Phoenix and Dallas), all of which have more points than Columbus.
The four games against Eastern Conference teams include two versus Metropolitan Division foes the Flyers (23-13-2 at home) and the New York Islanders (17-17-2 on the road). The Blue Jackets finish the season on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning (21-8-6 at home) and will have the finale at the Florida Panthers (14-17-5 at home).
Looking back at the last eight games of their one playoff season (2008-2009), Columbus went 2-3-3 over that stretch. They had spent their energy getting to the playoffs and were running low. Eventually, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.
The difference this year is that they haven't expended all of their energy and are starting to get respect from other teams. Gone are the days of seeing their opponents' backup goalie on an almost nightly basis. Similar to last year, there are rumblings that Columbus could be a very dangerous team in the post-season.
They are a team that has had to dig themselves out of self-made holes and continued to climb the ladder. The "country club" atmosphere within the room is history. They have become a proud group of men who refuse to surrender. They have forged an identity, at long last, of being a hard-working team that is tough to play against.
Inside the room, it is a "one-for-all and all-for one" mentality among the players. They have something to prove, almost a chip on their collective shoulder.
As of today, they would face the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins. The chowdah is mighty tasty in New England and the Blue Jackets have an appetite that needs satiated. A matchup between these two clubs would not be a walk in the park, for either.
In the season series between them, Columbus went 0-2-1 with none of the games being of the "blowout" variety. They haven't played each other since Nov. 30. It would be the cagey veterans versus the young upstarts in a first round series. Who knows how a series between Boston and Columbus would play out?
But don't get ahead of yourself. The Blue Jackets must get through these last eight games before anything else. It continues tomorrow within the friendly confines, as they host Colorado.