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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

Bubble:

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

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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.

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Predators’ P.K. Subban named EA Sports NHL 19 cover athlete

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As announced during Wednesday’s NHL Awards, P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators will be the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 video game.

This is Subban’s first time on the cover of the series, which featured Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid last year.

More details from EA:

For the first time in franchise history, NHL® 19 allows players to journey from the pond to the pros and play on outdoor rinks in new and returning game modes. Players can create a character and express their look and playstyle with over 900 new customization items including, for the first time, lifestyle apparel inspired by pond hockey. On the ice, the cutting-edge animation technology Real Player Motion (RPM) Tech delivers explosive-edge skating with more acceleration and responsiveness that looks and feels better. NHL® 19 also lets players compete with and against over 200 of the greatest hockey legends to ever play the sport, including Wayne Gretzky.

In NHL® 19, the sport returns to the ponds where players can compete under a unified progression hub called World of CHEL that unites EA SPORTS Hockey League, NHL THREES™ Drop In and two new modes, NHL ONES™ and Pro-Am. NHL ONES™ pits three players against each other in a 1v1v1 free-for-all with no rules and no stoppages. Players can win to rank up to new outdoor locations and defend their position as king-of-the-hill. Players can also play in any World of CHEL mode to progress their online Create-A-Character, unlock rewards, and customize their look and their playstyle.

EA Sports

Here’s the full trailer:

The game is set to be released Sept. 14 for Playstation 4 and XBOX One.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Golden Knights’ William Karlsson lands Lady Byng

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William Karlsson just finished a fantastic season, so it’s nice to see him take home a trophy at the 2018 NHL Awards.

Karlsson generated 43 goals, 78 points, and just 12 penalty minutes during the 2017-18 season on his way to winning the Lady Byng Trophy. The other finalists were Aleksander Barkov and Ryan O'Reilly.

(Note: it’s unclear if Karlsson edged out his competition by way of hair flips.)

Here are the voting results. Note that this was cut off at the top 20, while 49 players received at least one vote. As a reminder, the Lady Byng is “given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

This is a nifty factoid about Karlsson’s win:

Devils’ Brian Boyle receives Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

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Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils is the recipient of the 2018 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

The award is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association nominate a player from each of their 31 chapters and three finalists are named after a vote.

Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes were the other two finalists.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in September and missed the opening month of the season before returning Nov. 1. One week later he scored an emotional first goal of the season. He inspired a mural in New York City and later represented the New Jersey Devils at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa in place of teammate Taylor Hall.

The Devils forward didn’t only deal with a cancer diagnosis this season. Boyle and his wife, Lauren, also went through an ordeal where doctors believed their two-year-old son Declan was possibly dealing with Ewing sarcoma of the mandible. Turns out it was a rare condition that impacts blood flow and oxygen circulation, and after a handful of procedures the situation is under control.

Boyle’s red and white blood cell counts show little traces of CML remaining. He told Dan Rosen of NHL.com this week that he could be off medication in three to six months.

“I am in a good spot,” Boyle said. “I’m certainly not concerned.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders’ Mathew Barzal claims Calder Trophy

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Mathew Barzal became the fifth New York Islander to win the Calder Trophy, which was handed out during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Bryan Berard were the previous Islanders players to win the rookie of the year award.

“This is an amazing honor to win the Calder Trophy,” Barzal said. “The players that have won this award, within the Islanders organization and then others around the league, includes Hall of Fame players and Stanley Cup Champions. To have my name next to those guys in the record books is very humbling.”

Barzal led all rookies with 85 points and 27 power play points, and finished sixth in goals with 22. He was also the only rookie to average over a point per game (1.04). He finished the season as the Islanders leading scorer and was fourth on the team in goals.

One of the many highlights of Barzal’s rookie season was the three 5-point games he recorded, which made him him the second rookie in league history to achieve the feat. Joe Malone last did it 100 years ago during the NHL’s first season in 1917-18.

Here’s what the voting looked like as Barzal beat out the other two finalists, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks and Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.