Columbus Blue Jackets v Phoenix Coyotes

Have you noticed? Columbus is playing pretty well

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Let’s show a little love for the Blue Jackets.

After a dismal start to the season, the BJs have turned it on by winning six of their last nine, moving within two points of Carolina for the third and final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

But the real story is how Columbus has done it.

The Jackets are winning games without four of their highest-paid and most important players: Marian Gaborik (out since Nov. 14 with a knee injury), Sergei Bobrovsky (out since Dec. 4 with a groin ailment), James Wisniewski (out since Dec. 6 with an upper-body injury) and Nathan Horton (missed the entire season recovering from shoulder surgery).

That quartet represents the club’s top sniper, a Vezina-winning goalie, a top-four defenseman and a prized free agent power forward — big losses for a team light on talent.

Yet the Jackets have made it work.

They’ve recorded quality wins over this 6-3-0 stretch — a 6-0 drubbing of the Leafs in Toronto, back-to-back shutout wins over Tampa Bay and Minnesota — and have played well in their losses, dropping a tough 3-1 decision in Boston and a 2-1 defeat in Pittsburgh.

The most startling thing, though, is how Columbus has coped with its goaltending situation.

When Bobrovsky went down, the Jackets turned the No. 1 gig over to career journeyman Curtis McElhinney, a former Calgary draftee that spent time in Anaheim, Ottawa and Phoenix before joining Columbus last season (spending all of last year in AHL Springfield.) He won three of his first four starts in relief of Bobrovsky, including a 20-save shutout of the Wild.

But on Thursday, McElhinney was injured during the first period of a 4-2 win in New York… forcing Columbus to put in third-stringer Mike McKenna, who was playing his first NHL contest in three years.

Undeterred, McKenna stopped 17 of 18 shots the Rangers threw his way. That raised the spirits of head coach Todd Richards, who praised his players for a “great win.”

“It’s starting to get to that point where I think the confidence is growing in the group,” Richards told the Columbus Dispatch. “And the confidence the coaching staff has in the group is starting to grow.

“We’re starting to see more good things throughout a 60-minute game.”

Capitals manage OT win after coughing up lead to Bruins

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: Nicklas Backstrom #19 of the Washington Capitals looks on against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at Verizon Center on November 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t pretty, and they might have lost key defenseman Matt Niskanen to injury, but at least the Washington Capitals managed a win against the Boston Bruins.

For a while, it was looking pretty ugly.

After going up 3-0, the Capitals went more than a period’s worth of time without even managing a shot on goal. Whether you lean more toward giving the Bruins credit for fighting back or beating up the Capitals for “sitting on a lead,” it’s staggering that such a dangerous offense could be held in check for so long.

Luckily for Washington, Nicklas Backstrom salvaged the night with an overtime goal to give the Capitals a 4-3 overtime win.

Both teams have had a knack for extending games beyond regulation lately, by the way:

Capitals over the last three games:
Shootout loss to the Lightning
Overtime win against the Sabres
Overtime win tonight against the Bruins

Bruins over the last five games:
Shootout loss against Flyers
Shootout win against Hurricanes
Regulation win against Sabres
Overtime win against Panthers
Overtime loss to the Capitals

Maybe that’s what gets it done in 2016-17: finding ways to carve out wins and shake out rough patches, like the Caps did tonight.

Matt Niskanen injured by Patrice Bergeron boarding hit

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Patrice Bergeron doesn’t have a reputation for dirty hits, but he drew the Washington Capitals’ ire for a hit on Matt Niskanen.

The Capitals consider Niskanen “probable” to return to Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins with what they’re calling an upper-body injury. Bergeron received a two-minute boarding penalty for the infraction.

(Check out video of the hit above.)

The Capitals’ Twitter acknowledged the brewing bad feelings.

Does Bergeron deserve supplemental discipline for that boarding hit?

Washington currently leads the game 3-2.

Ouch: NHL official helped off ice after puck to knee (Video)

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There are plenty of hazards on an NHL rink even if you’re not a player.

Barry Trotz ranks among the coaches who’ve been hit by pucks, though he’s one of the tiny sliver of humans who would shake off a puck to the forehead. It can be dangerous for officials, too, whether it means a wayward puck or wayward player.

The latest example comes in the form of linesman Steve Miller needing help off the ice after a puck hit him in the knee area. As you can see from the video, it looked like he was in serious pain.

Yikes:

Video: Tyler Bozak with some saucy moves on this goal

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It’s refreshing that hockey fans have, for the most part, moved on from debating Tyler Bozak‘s merits.

The general feeling is that the Toronto Maple Leafs use him in appropriate ways these days, so we can simply enjoy his work as a pretty spiffy hockey player.

Speaking of spiffy, check out the sweet moves he made against the Minnesota Wild for the goal above. Feels like you could dub over a Chris Berman “whoop” or two in there, right?

(If you’re into that kind of thing.)

Here’s that gaudy move in isolation and in GIF form: