Time becoming enemy in fight for playoff spot

New York Islanders' Thomas Hickey (14) and Columbus Blue Jackets' Blake Comeau (14) collide in front of the net as Islanders' Frans Nielsen (51) defends from behind in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, March 23, 2014, in Uniondale, N.Y.

Kathy Kmonicek/AP

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’… Into the future

Coming out of the Olympic break, Columbus had 24 games to play to reach the finish line. Winning two of every three of those games should have seen them make the postseason in comfortable fashion. In the 13 games played, they have gone 7-5-1. That puts them two wins off the pace they needed to maintain.

What a difference three days and two losses will make. They started Friday in third place in the Metro division. After an emotionally-charged loss within the friendly confines to the visiting New York Rangers on Friday evening, they travelled to the New York Islanders and proceeded to get shut out.

By the end of the day, they had dropped to fifth in the Metro division, four points behind the third place Rangers. They have a game-in-hand on both the Rangers and the fourth place Washington Capitals. Within the conference standings, they are now outside looking in on a wild card playoff spot, sitting in tenth place, two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings (seventh and eighth, respectively). They have two games-in-hand on the Maple Leafs.

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’… Into the future

"It’s pretty obvious," said defenseman Jack Johnson, "this one hurt, no question. But, we’ve got a big four-point swing coming up on Tuesday with Detroit. Both teams understand the seriousness of the game."

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"You just hate, at the end of the season, to look back and think of one point you could have had here or there. Everyone understands this time of the year and it (game versus Detroit) should be exciting."

This is not the time of year to lose your identity, as Columbus was clearly out-worked by the 14th place and injury-riddled Islanders. Their special teams were decent coming out of the holidays. But the Blue Jackets power play is anemic at this point, going 0 for 42 recently.

"It’s hard, this time of year," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards, "getting that intensity level up every single night. We didn’t have it at a high enough level (versus the Islanders). We ended up paying for it."

This club has seemed to thrive on adversity this year, usually coming back after a bad stretch with a hard-working, consistent group effort. Yes, they are still a young team. But that cannot be used as an excuse any longer. Where is the sense of urgency?

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’… Into the future

"This time of year, the desperation that we need to have," continued Richards. "That’s one thing that helps to drive our game. We had it at moments (yesterday), it wasn’t the whole game. To go out and earn wins, that’s what we need to have."

To get themselves back on the pace of winning every two out of three games, they need to win nine of their remaining eleven games. That’s a tall order for any team at this point of the season. And yet, the Blue Jackets have a way of surprising you. No one saw them going on an eight-game winning streak in January, setting a franchise record in the process. Do they have the wherewithal to mount such an undertaking again? Urgency, desperation and hard work must be their calling card when the Detroit Red Wings come to town on Tuesday.

Yes, winning nine of their last eleven games would seem to be insurmountable. But, I’m not sure that Brunnhilde has even begun warming up her voice yet.

"We’re going to be up for every game," Johnson said. "It’s a case of there are no easy games. Detroit will be a big game. The next game is the biggest game of the year. That’s pretty much the way it’s going to be from here on out."

They have a steep hill to climb, for sure, but at the same time must not lose their identity. A phrase from my youth keeps ringing through my head as Columbus makes a run for their second postseason appearance. As the great Yogi Berra said, "It ain’t over till it’s over."