The Columbus Blue Jackets season has looked a lot like a scary rollercoaster at Six Flags. They started the year well enough, but they quickly faded as their top players weren’t performing up to par.
But just when it looked like they were in danger of missing the playoffs, they decided to rattle off 10 consecutive victories. This streak has surprised even the most optimistic Blue Jackets fans.
The timing of this winning streak couldn’t be any better. With the playoffs just a few weeks ago, the red-hot Jackets are firing on all cylinders at the perfect time. Sure, beating Pittsburgh or Washington in the opening round won’t be easy, but confidence is a funny thing.
The question is, where exactly did all this come from?
Let’s start with an obvious answer: Sergei Bobrovsky.
Their franchise netminder has been between the pipes for seven of his team’s last 10 wins. Keep in mind, he also missed a game because of an illness. In those seven starts, the 29-year-old has given up two goals or fewer five times. He allowed three goals in road games against the Flyers and Rangers.
In all, he’s given up just 13 goals in seven victories over San Jose, Detroit, Montreal, Philadelphia, Ottawa, New York and Florida. Even though five of those teams aren’t in the playoffs right now, those are still impressive numbers.
So, the goalie’s red-hot. What else has contributed to this recent run?
Top forwards are rolling
Well Cam Atkinson, who signed a huge extension this season, has finally come to life. In fairness to him, he’s been productive for a lot more than 10 games.
Since coming back from a foot injury in late January, Atkinson has failed to pick up at least one point in just eight of 27 games. 19 games with a point, eight without. That’s strong.
During the winning streak, the 28-year-old has come up clutch a few times. He’s scored a hat trick and three game-winning goals all in his last five outings. Not too shabby.
Another player that has greatly contributed to the streak is Artemi Panarin, who has really turned it on of late.
The 26-year-old has racked up 16 points in his last 10 games. Four of those came in a win over the Rangers earlier this week.
The acquisition of Panarin has injected some speed and skill into Columbus’ lineup. That’s something they were definitely missing over the last couple of seasons. You think Chicago would want a do-over on that trade? Sure seems like they it.
All six defensemen getting it done
Former second overall pick Ryan Murray and little-known Finnish blue line Markus Nutivaara have also helped move the puck on the back end. Nutivaara missed 11 games because of an upper-body injury between Feb. 18 and Mar. 9, but he’s picked up two goals and an assist in six games since returning.
As for Murray, he doesn’t provide as much in terms of offense, but he’s seen his minutes increase as the season has gone on.
The play of these six defensemen forced John Tortorella to make Jack Johnson a healthy scratch on Thursday night.
The question isn’t whether or not they’ll make the playoffs because they will. Instead, it’ll be whether or not they can finally get themselves out of the first round. They won’t have it easy, but it’s time for this team to take the next step.
If the playoffs started today, they’d have a date with the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions. On a positive note, they could still land home ice advantage in the first round.