NHL Playoff Races: Blues end Blue Jackets’ run at 10

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With points at a premium for teams in the NHL’s bubble races, sometimes it’s about digging deep … and maybe getting a bounce or two.

All four division leaders either hold huge or at least comfortable edges over their competitors through Saturday, so let’s focus on teams that are in more urgent battles for positioning, if not spots altogether.

Blues > Blue Jackets

After rattling off 10 consecutive wins, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell short against the St. Louis Blues in a 2-1 regulation decision. St. Louis is on a nice run of its own, as this gutsy win gives them five in a row.

Jake Allen ended up winning a goaltending duel with Sergei Bobrovsky, as Allen turned aside 33 out of 34 shots on goal. Vladimir Tarsenko scored a very “Vladimir Tarasenko” goal as the decisive tally:

Earlier on Saturday, the Avalanche beat the Golden Knights 2-1 via a shootout, so the Avalanche and Blues now hold the West’s wild-card spots. Each team could conceivably creep into the Central’s top three, yet they also don’t have a lot of room ahead of the idle Anaheim Ducks. (Update: Minnesota ended up beating Nashville, widening its lead.)

Third in Central: Wild (defeats Nashville) – 92 points, 74 games, 38 ROW
First WC: Avs – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW
Second WC: Blues – 89 points, 75 GP, 39 ROW

Update – Third in Pacific:  Ducks – 89 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW
Ninth place: Kings (after loss to Oilers) – 89 points, 76 GP, 39 ROW

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

Gutsy wins by Devils and Panthers

For quite some time, it looked like the Arizona Coyotes might play the spoiler against the Florida Panthers.

Florida entered the third period down 2-0, but Vincent Trocheck helped them rally with two goals, pushing him to 30 on the season. Denis Malgin ended up collecting the game-winner in an eventual 4-2 win for the Panthers, who willed their way to a big win.

The New Jersey Devils probably rank as even more impressive. One night after gutting out an overtime win against the defending champion Penguins, the Devils beat the East-leading, more-rested Lightning by a score of 2-1. Taylor Hall assisted on the game-winner by Kyle Palmieri after scoring in OT on Friday, while Nico Hischier had two goals in as many nights.

Keith Kinkaid was even better closing out back-to-back wins, as he stopped 35 out of 36 shots on goal against the dangerous Lightning.

With the Atlantic top three essentially locked in and the Capitals closing in on the Metropolitan Division crown, take a look at the Metro’s other two spots, the two wild-card holders, and where the Panthers rank after a busy Saturday:

METRO2: Penguins – 90 points, 75 GP, 40 ROW
METRO3: CBJ – 89 points, 76 GP, 36 ROW

East WC1: Flyers – 88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW
East WC2: Devils – 86 points, 75 GP, 34 ROW

Ninth: Panthers – 83 points, 73 GP, 35 ROW

With three games in hand on the Blue Jackets and two on the other relevant Metro teams ahead of them, the Panthers are in a strong position to push their way into the postseason if they can keep things going.

Imagine how Florida felt going into the third. They lost their most recent game to Columbus by a humbling score of 4-0, and were down 2-0 with a four-game road trip looming. Saturday could have delivered a punch to the gut; instead, they kept fighting and demanded a big win.

Losing in regulation keeps Columbus from a) at least briefly grabbing a round of home-ice advantage and b) creating a meaningful cushion ahead of the bubble pack. They remain in third in the Metro even after this loss, but this one stings.

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.