Blue Jackets, Senators pick up intensity as playoffs near

OTTAWA — Playoff hockey has already begun in the NHL, with nine of the first dozen games in March decided by one goal.

“This time of season, it’s going to be tightened up,” Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky told The Columbus Dispatch on Thursday after his 38-save performance in a 1-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

Two nights earlier, the Blue Jackets dropped a 1-0 decision to the Montreal Canadiens.

“It’s tough to score now,” continued Bobrovsky, who has stopped 95 of the last 98 shots he has faced. “It’s fun to play this way.”

More of the same should be expected when the Blue Jackets (40-16-6) look to strengthen their hold on second place in the Metropolitan Division against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday at Canadian Tire Centre.

The Senators (34-22-6) are coming off a 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday and will be attempting to take their season series with the Blue Jackets, who they defeated 2-0 in Columbus on Jan. 19 before dropping a 7-6 overtime decision in the rematch three days later at home.

The Senators have a tenuous grip on second place in the Atlantic Division, but they also still hold hope of catching the Canadiens, whom they trail by six points with three games in hand.

Not that they’re checking the out of town scoreboard the moment they step off the ice every night.

“For me, we just keep our route, we just keep our target,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “It’s not about in front or behind for us. We’ve got to be ready for the next game. All the games are important, and we want to win them all.”

The Blue Jackets have excelled in nail-biters this season with an 18-6-6 record that, before Friday’s games, gave them the fifth-best winning percentage (.600) in one-goal games. The Senators are 16-8-6, putting them 11th in one-goal games before Friday’s action with a .533 winning percentage.

Ottawa feels better prepared for the stretch run since adding veteran wingers Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg at the trade deadline. While Burrows scored both goals Thursday, Stalberg gives the Senators more speed on the fourth line, which previously didn’t have the full trust of Boucher.

Against the Avalanche, winger Tommy Wingels had the least amount of ice time, and even he was at 10:41.

“We rolled the lines, and every line had a lot of energy, even at the end of the game,” said captain Erik Karlsson, who is poised to set the Senators franchise Ironman streak when he plays in his 312th consecutive game Saturday. “That’s what we’re going to need down the stretch here.

“We’re going to need to roll everybody. Some guys are going to feel better than others some nights, and it’s nice to have that depth and to be able to rely on every player at every position, to play both ends of the ice.”

The Blue Jackets’ two deadline acquisitions, defensemen Kyle Quincey and forward Lauri Korpikoski, provide depth and experience to a team that is looking to make just its third playoff appearance in franchise history.

Quincey has played in 54 playoff games and Korpikoski in 30.

“It’s your calmness and professionalism that shows itself,” Quincey told The Dispatch in reference to performing at this time of year. “You show by example, I guess. At the end of the day, it’s just hockey.”