Blue Jackets shrink Flyers’ playoff buffer

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are streaking; the Philadelphia Flyers just can’t stop from being streaky.

Columbus edged Philly 5-3 on Thursday, extending a winning streak to six games.

Cam Atkinson managed a hat trick by scoring his third goal with about a second remaining in the contest, Artemi Panarin collected two assists, and the Blue Jackets once again enjoyed nice offense from defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski (an assist apiece).

Again, this simply seems to continue the Flyers’ trend of either being hot or cold. Lately, Philly has been traveling in the wrong direction, as this represents losses in seven of eight games.

The Flyers have to hope that Brian Elliott‘s recent return to the ice signals a looming return to suiting up for NHL action, as Petr Mrazek‘s really been struggling lately. He was pulled from Thursday’s game early in the second period after allowing four goals on just 10 shots. The pending UFA has just one win in his last seven appearances, making it tough to remember that he rattled off three straight victories in late February.

This result didn’t push Philly out of the Metropolitan Division’s top three, but Columbus is breathing down their necks, and the Florida Panthers’ lopsided games in hand situation makes it difficult to tell how much of a buffer the Flyers possess overall.

Take a look at how the bubble looks now, which could end up being increasingly, uncomfortably relevant to Philly:

Third Metro: Flyers – 81 points in 71 games, 33 ROW

First WC: Blue Jackets – 81 points in 71 GP, 32 ROW

Second WC: Devils – 80 points in 70 GP, 31 ROW

Panthers – 77 points in 68 GP, 32 ROW

Bob adds some pizzazz to that playoff outlook. Thanks, Bob. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As you can see, the Flyers could easily slip into the wild-card ranks thanks to threats from both the Devils and Blue Jackets. Again, they also can’t dismiss the Panthers if Florida can make the most of games in hand. (James Reimer did his part on Thursday, authoring a masterful shutout in a 3-0 win against the Boston Bruins.)

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Now, look, the Flyers still find themselves in a decent spot. While they face a closing schedule that’s pretty road-heavy, the Devils and Blue Jackets must struggle with similar challenges. The Panthers also need to stay hot to overtake one or more of those Metro bubble teams.

Still, it’s a bit jarring to see the Flyers even vulnerable to slipping out of the playoff picture, at least after they seemed to pull away from the pack.

Then again, for a team that once lost 10 in a row and then shook that off with a six-game winning streak, maybe that’s just how things are going to go for 2017-18? Ultimately, we’ll see where they land after navigating the peaks and valleys of a bumpy season.

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.