Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets enter ‘playoff mode’ in final month

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Maybe getting away from Nationwide Arena will do the Columbus Blue Jackets some good? After a weekend that saw them drop games to the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets, the Blue Jackets hit the road to play in New Jersey and Pittsburgh. But more importantly, Tuesday night they’ll begin a stretch with six of seven games coming against opponents holding Eastern Conference playoff spots.

When general manager Jarmo Kekalainen went bold and all-in at the trade deadline, it upped the pressure on the season. Columbus was already on the playoff bubble and now with those moves it’s playoffs or bust. It’s a gamble, but it’s better than seeing another team be conservative late in the year.

“We’re kind of in playoff mode,” said head coach John Tortorella on Monday. “I think when coaches get into playoff mode, I always call it being with them. I think we’ve pushed the buttons and kicked and prodded and yelled and screamed and hugged during the regular season. But I think we’re in a situation right now … we’ve got to do this together.”

The pressure is on in Columbus, and Tortorella is preparing his players to deal with the pressure that will come with the final month of the season. Every game night there will be important points to be had, or dropped.

“You find out about yourself,” Tortorella said. “That’s what we all strive to do as coaches and athletes in the sporting world is to be thrust into those situations and see if you can sink or swim.”

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Capitals vs. Penguins
Islanders vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Jets vs. Stars
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Hurricanes at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Senators at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Panthers at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
Jets at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wild at Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Rangers at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Red Wings at Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
Ducks at Coyotes, 9 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.7 percent
Capitals – 97.1 percent
Penguins – 89.7 percent
Hurricanes – 88.3 percent
Canadiens – 65 percent
Blue Jackets – 53.8 percent
Flyers – 5.9 percent
Panthers – 0.8 percent
Sabres – 0.8 percent
Rangers – 0.1 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 100 percent
Predators – 99.6 percent
Golden Knights – 96.2 percent
Blues – 95.3 percent
Stars – 77.1 percent
Coyotes – 45.8 percent
Wild – 41.7 percent
Avalanche – 38.5 percent
Oilers – 3.7 percent
Canucks – 1.3 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Blackhawks – 6.5 percent
Oilers – 6 percent
Rangers – 5 percent
Sabres – 3.5 percent
Avalanche – 3 percent
Panthers – 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 106 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 84 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 83 points
Leon Draisaitl, 83 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 45 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals
Joe Pavelski, Sharks – 36 goals

————

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.

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