Blue Jackets heating up at right time

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have been baffling for some time now, and they might have pushed John Tortorella to the edge recently, making him wonder if some of the team’s struggling players are daydreaming about the off-season.

One could almost picture Seth Jones responding with: “Don’t book any reservations just yet.”

The 23-year-old beefed up what’s already a career-best season with two goals on Friday as the Blue Jackets did what they had to do in edging the Detroit Red Wings 3-2. With that, the Blue Jackets have won four games in a row, giving themselves a real shot at either maintaining a wild card spot or advancing in the Metro if others stumble:

Metro top three:

Penguins: 82 points in 68 games, 37 ROW
Capitals: 81 points, 67 GP, 34 ROW
Flyers: 79 points, 68 GP, 32 ROW


Blue Jackets, first wild card: 77 points, 69 GP, 30 ROW
Devils, second WC: 76 points, 68 GP, 30 ROW

Panthers, biggest WC threat: 73 points, 65 GP, 31 ROW


The Blue Jackets might feel a little anxious in seeing the Panthers with so many games in hand, but Columbus does get to impact its “own destiny” to some extent. They play one more game against the Flyers (March 15), Panthers (March 22), and Penguins (April 5). (Odd coincidence: all three of those games fall on Thursdays.) They don’t face the Devils or Capitals again during the 2017-18 regular season, however.

The possibility of another team or teams fading is one plus, regardless. The Devils, in particular, risk a slide for at least the near future:

Next six games for Devils

Sat, Mar 10 @ Nashville
Wed, Mar 14 @ Vegas
Sat, Mar 17 @ Los Angeles
Sun, Mar 18 @ Anaheim
Tue, Mar 20 @ San Jose
Fri, Mar 23 @ Pittsburgh

(The Devils’ schedule then closes out with six of eight games in Newark, though it must be noted that, on paper, even that closing stretch is fairly challenging opponents-wise.)

Between the Devils’ tough schedule and the Flyers’ up-and-down pattern this season, the Blue Jackets might just be able to fight their way into the playoffs by surviving a battle of attrition.

By committee

That’s not an elegant way to make the postseason, however, so the good news is that Columbus has some positive elements to build on.

For one thing, their top two defensemen are performing in ways that deliver on their hype. With tonight’s two goals, Seth Jones now has a career-high for goals (13) while also beefing up what was already a new career-high for points (46). With a whopping 231 shots on goal, Jones is firing the puck like never before; only Brent Burns has more SOG than Jones among NHL defensemen. Jones now has three goals and two assists for five points in his past two games.

Zach Werenski wasn’t able to score in Friday’s win against Detroit, but he’s been showing why Columbus boasts one of the NHL’s most fearsome one-two scoring punches on the blueline. Before tonight, the 20-year-old generated three goals and three assists for six points in five games. He’s at 14 goals on the season, giving the Blue Jackets a rare duo of defensemen with well over 10+ goals apiece.

Sergei Bobrovsky continues to be one of the NHL’s most reliable goalies, yet losing him for a spell actually managed to shine a light on an advantage Columbus holds over some of their bubble competitors.

While this hasn’t been a great season overall for the backup, Joonas Korpisalo came through with two straight wins while “Bob” was sidelined. That could serve as a significant confidence-booster for a goalie the Blue Jackets fought to keep from Vegas in the expansion draft.


In summary, the Blue Jackets are getting contributions from a number of sources, which is a heartening sign, as Columbus needs to leverage its advantages if it wants to win what could be tight races for the East’s final playoff spots.

This four-game winning streak greatly improved their odds of crossing that finish line with their heads held high.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Kopitar scores four, McDavid’s four-point night and Olczyk cancer-free

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Players of the Night:

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Two words: career night. Kopitar scored four goals, becoming the first Kings player in 25 years to do so, and thus, setting his own career-high in the process. The Kings decimated the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 in the process.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky made 33 saves en route to a shutout victory, the Blue Jackets’ 10th in a row in a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers, who have been red-hot themselves.

Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals: Grubauer has been solid in relief of Braden Holtby down the stretch as the Capitals’ No. 1 gets some rest before a playoff push. He won his fourth start out of his past five since March 10, stopping all 39 shots that came his way in the shutout.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He’s not playing for a playoff spot, and he shouldn’t get too many votes for the Hart Trophy. But McDavid still has his eyes set on Mr. Art Ross. McDavid had two goals and two assists in a 6-2 win for the Oilers over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. McDavid’s 94 points  (36 goals, 58 assists) are now just one shy of Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

Highlights of the Night:

Above all else, this:

Hard work pays off:

Kopitar’s fourth:

Not everything is pretty when it comes to the Canucks. This is though:

Factoids of the Night:

Things you don’t see very often:

Poor Cam Ward:


Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 0

Hurricanes 6, Coyotes 5

Flyers 4, Rangers 3

Lightning 7, Islanders 6

Capitals 1, Red Wings 0

Maple Leafs 5, Predators 2

Oilers 6, Senators 2

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 7, Avalanche 1

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (OT)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks drop Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime

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If the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s fixing to be one hell of a series,

Thursday’s meeting cemented that. The game had all the ingredients that make up that playoff feel — tight play, tight checking, great goaltending and low scoring. There was urgency from both teams, despite both being near locks to make the postseason.

And it came right down to the last shot of the game.

Logan Couture scored 39 seconds (ironically, Couture’s jersey number) into overtime to clinch a 2-1 win for the Sharks on Thursday night.

The Sharks gained a single point on the Golden Knights and are seven points back of Vegas for first in the Pacific Division with eight games remaining. Perhaps most important, they remained four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings, who leapfrogged the Anaheim Ducks with a 7-1 win against Colorado. San Jose owns a game in hand on L.A.

Catching up to Vegas seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The two teams play each other for the last time next week.

The loss was bittersweet for the Golden Knights, who set record No. 2321778 for a club in their inaugural season.

Malcolm Subban made 42 saves, a career-high after being thrust into action following an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury.

Tomas Tartar got the ball rolling in the game 3:47 into the first period to give the Golden Knights an early lead.

That lead lasted for roughly a period.

Brent Burns tied the game 1-1 at 3:27 of the second period with the slickest of wrist shots from the point.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Eddie Olczyk declares he’s cancer-free


It’s the news every hockey fan wanted to hear.

On Thursday night’s Chicago Blackhawks broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago, Eddie Olczyk, who was diagnosed last summer with colon cancer, told the hockey world some great news.

“I got the call on March 14 at 5:07 p.m. letting me know my scans were clear,” an emotional Olczyk said as he stood next to long-time broadcast partner Pat Foley. “I’ve never heard a better phrase in my life. I’m now 10 days on with the rest of my life.”

Olczyk, 51, had surgery after his diagnosis and had his last chemotherapy treatment on Feb. 21.

“All the cancer is gone – we beat this thing,” Olczyk said, thanking a handful of people, from colleagues at NBC to the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL to his family members, wife and four kids. “And I say ‘we’ because it has been a team effort. We all beat this and I’m so thankful for all the support and prayers. They worked. I’m proud to stand here before everybody and say we beat this thing.”

Foley called Olczyk’s battle with cancer, “heroic.”

Olczyk was scheduled to have a scan in April to see how his chemo treatments had gone, but that scan was moved up due to emergency hernia surgery, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’ve had enough crying to last me a lifetime,” Olczyk said. “I can’t emphasize enough just the support out there… just the texts, the email, the letters. I’ve received thousands and thousands of mail. I won’t be able to thank everybody, but I just want everybody to know on behalf of Eddie Olczyk and his family, we’re forever grateful for the support and the prayers and well wishes we received over the past seven months.”

Olczyk said one thing he realized through his battle is that he found out he was way tougher than he thought he ever was.

“If I can inspire one person to stay away from this, then I guess it was well worth it going through it,” he said.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings

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If you were looking for a barn-burner, this game wasn’t that.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders combined for 13 goals, and the Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes scored 11 in total, the Washington Capitals and their hosts, the Detroit Red Wings, played 60 minutes with just one goal between them.

It wasn’t nearly as exciting in the goal-scoring department, but the win for the Washington Capitals put a bit of separation between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, who the Caps (93 points) lead by four points now.

Brett Conolly’s third-period marker at 6:41 was all the Capitals needed for their

Andreas Athanasiou appeared to make it 1-0 in the first period on a nice wrister, but a goaltender interference challenge by Washington was successful after Tyler Bertuzzi was judged to have made contact with Grubauer. This one was pretty cut and dry, as far as GI calls go.

The loss for the Red Wings meant they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, something that had been known for a while but hadn’t happened in the mathematical department.

Grubauer was solid, making 39 saves for his third shutout of the season. At the other end of the rink, Jimmy Howard wasn’t too shabby either, stopping 25-of-26. All he needed was a bit of run support.

Prior to puck drop, the Red Wings announced that defenseman Mike Green, who was hampered by a neck injury back in February, will go under the knife, ending his season.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck