Blue Jackets facing possible elimination game

By Zach Davis

Just two weeks ago, Columbus was one of the hottest teams in the NHL. The Blue Jackets were 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and had recorded 23 points in 25 games, pulling to within two points of the Western Conference playoff race.

Since then, Columbus (31-26-9) has lost six straight games and has fallen to eight points behind Los Angeles for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. With just 16 games remaining, including nine against current playoff teams, the Blue Jackets would have to win at least four more games than all four of the team’s ahead of them to qualify for the playoffs.

Bottom line: they can’t afford another loss.

The silver lining is that they have the opportunity to immediately make up some ground with a must-win game against the Kings tonight.

During the six game losing streak, the Blue Jackets have found a different way to lose on each and every night. In the end, however, each agonizing loss is directly tied to Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon. Both goaltenders have struggled to keep leads, especially in tight situations.

Mason has given up eight goals in the opening period of his last four games and has allowed two or more scores in 19 of his last 24 starts in goal. He ranks 40th in the NHL with a 3.01 goals against average.

Garon has just one win in his last 10 starts (1-6-3) dating back to Dec. 22 and has averaged 3.6 goals allowed in those games.

The losing streak began in Nashville, where goaltender Mathieu Garon allowed three goals in the final period in a 3-2 Predators win.

Two days later it was Mason’s turn against the NHL’s top team. The Blue Jackets took the game to a shootout where on two different occasions Vancouver faced a must-score attempt or else Columbus would win. On both occasions Mason gave up the goal and the Canucks eventually took the game in eight frames, 2-1.

In the third game of the road trip, Mason again faltered, giving up three goals on the first 14 shots at Edmonton, then owners of the NHL’s worst record, in a 4-2 loss.

The next day Mason again got a chance for redemption, but gave up four goals in the first two periods in a 4-3 loss at Calgary.

The final game of the road trip Mason and the Jackets grabbed an early 3-1 lead in the opening period in St. Louis, but couldn’t even hold the advantage through the first period as the Blues tied it at three. After the game went to the shootout, Mason gave up three scores in four attempts for a 5-4 St. Louis victory.

That was a prelude to last night’s performance, as Garon got the call in a rematch against the Blues. Columbus held a 3-0 lead late in the second period but St. Louis scored four unanswered goals, including the last in overtime, for a 4-3 win.

The Jackets just keep finding ways to lose, and in turn are missing out on valuable points for their playoff push. They lost out on two in Nashville, Vancouver and twice against the Blues. They arguably could have gotten at least one against both Edmonton and Calgary. When you are down eight points in the playoff race, those are 8-to-12 possible points that the Blue Jackets could not afford to squander.

The Kings, who are fresh off a victory over Detroit, are eight points ahead of the Columbus in position for the last playoff slot. Los Angeles will have the chance to put the proverbial nail in the Jackets coffin tonight at 7 p.m.