For Blue Jackets, final 35 games are a test

Columbus Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg (41) scores against Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo (1) in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015. 

Video reviews of two separate calls of goals on the ice were affirmed by the war room in Toronto. One of these goals was Blue Jackets’ rookie Alex Wennberg’s tying goal in the second period. The other was Florida Panthers’ Sean Bergenheim’s goal in the third, which proved to be the game-winner en route to the final score of 3-2.

But in reality, the Blue Jackets took the wind out of their own sails with a couple of slashing penalties in the first stanza by Scott Hartnell and Ryan Johansen.

"There were stretches where we took a couple of penalties and they had some momentum," said Brandon Dubinsky. "We had a few turnovers in our zone and got away from our game a little bit."

The first period saw Columbus come out with their legs moving and playing the game with a purpose. They understand how precious points are for them right now. Well, for roughly 20 minutes they understood how important those points are, as they once again got away from playing "their" game.

"We did good things for the first 10 minutes," said head coach Todd Richards. "And then, to me, what kind of swayed the game were the penalties in the first (period). That gave them (Florida) momentum and generated some opportunities on their power play.

"But up to that point, we were playing fast, getting pucks in behind them and forechecking. We had some opportunities." This then, was a prime example of their games for much of the season.

At this point of the season, after 47 games has earned them 45 points, the playoffs are a distant goal that would better be sought after next season. Just to equal last season’s total of 93 points that saw them earn a wild card spot, they would need to garner 48 points in their final 35 games.

There were only four teams that earned 48 or more points in the first 35 games: the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The chances of the Blue Jackets playing like a top-four team the rest of the way is one of the longest of long-shots, given how their season has unfolded. This is not an indictment of them, merely an observation on the plethora of injuries suffered and the rotation of players into and out of the lineup. The youth and maturity of the team has to be factored in, also.

Does this mean that they are now in the "McDavid/Eichel sweepstakes?" No, and the biggest reason why is simply pride. The guys that don the union blue for Columbus have too much pride to let the season waste away over the course of the final 35 games.

"Tanking" is abhorrent to them. Gone are the days of the country club atmosphere within this Blue Jackets locker room. Pride is a powerful motivator and something that they all share.

The final stretch has to be about gaining experience and playing the game their way. No one will be happy when Saturday, April 11 rolls around and the team is on the outside looking in. But by playing the game the right way, they will give the kids like Alex Wennberg, Josh Anderson, et al., the experience of knowing that quitting on your team or the season, is never an option.

"Right now," said Dubinsky, "it’s all about results for us. We’ve got to find a way to get points."