NHL on NBCSN: Blue Jackets, Penguins kick off critical home-and-home series

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Thursday night’s matchup between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Talk about a game with massive playoff implications.

The Metropolitan Division is so tight that the difference between third place (Carolina, 79 points) and not being in a playoff spot at all (Columbus, 77 points) is separated by two points.

It’s with this that we can understand the magnitude of Thursday’s game between the Penguins and the visiting Blue Jackets — the start of a pivotal home-and-home series between the two clubs.

The Blue Jackets are coming off a much-needed win on Tuesday after going 1-3-0 since the trade deadline when they sold the farm for Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Adam McQuaid. But even the win wasn’t impressive, putting up a season-low 18 shots against a bad New Jersey Devils team that should have been a cakewalk.

“Guys are panicking for some reason. We have a lot of skill players, and guys are afraid to make five-foot passes, or tape-to-tape passes,” said forward Cam Atkinson. “Guys are running around, not in position and we’re just throwing the puck off the glass and not helping our ‘D’ out.

“We’re a blue-collar team. Where we thrive is off our forecheck and banging and creating turnovers. That’s where we get our goals. For whatever reason, we think we’re a highly-skilled team that’s just going to out-skill every team. We have to get back to good habits and working hard.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Atkinson then laid it out pretty straight.

“We just have to figure it the f— out,” he said.

The Blue Jackets could use quite a bit more from the guys they traded for. Duchene has three points in seven games, Dzingel has two in five, and McQuaid, well, he’s been riding the press box express.

The Penguins eeked out an overtime win of their own on Tuesday, downing the Florida Panthers 3-2.

Unlike Columbus, however, the Penguins are surging at the right time with points in their past five games (3-0-2).

“Now is the true test. We probably shouldn’t be in this position with the team we have, but we are,” said general manager Jim Rutherford. “In some ways, it may come at a good time, because if this can come together like it should and everybody plays the way they’re capable of, the momentum will be on our side going into the playoffs.”

The Penguins were boosted Tuesday by the return of Brian Dumoulin. A concussion had kept him out of the lineup since their loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stadium series.

His return couldn’t have come at a better time as the Pens are reeling on the backend with Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Chad Ruhwedel all missing because of injury. Dumoulin wasn’t nursed back into the lineup, either, playing 21:42.

John Forslund (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Pittsburgh. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Mike Johnson.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck