Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets’ Bobrovsky surging at the right time

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.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been bouncing between a wild card spot and an early start to their summer recently, but Thursday’s win over the Montreal Canadiens has put them back in the playoff picture with five games to play (and a game in-hand on the Habs, who are also at 90 points). Saturday’s date with the Nashville Predators is the start of a weekend back-to-back set that will see them then fly to Buffalo for a Sunday meeting with the Sabres.

After an up-and-down season, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been surging of late, helping the Blue Jackets to wins in seven of his last nine starts. “[U]nless something really crazy happens,” per head coach John Tortorella, he’ll get the nod tonight against Pekka Rinne.

How good has Bob been during the most important portion of the Blue Jackets’ season? Since March 5, Bobrovsky has posted a .953 even strength save percentage, which has only been bested by Ben Bishop and Philipp Grubauer among netminders with at least four appearances in that timeframe.

“I don’t want to analyze (too much),” Bobrovsky said this week after blanking the New York Islanders, setting a career high in shutouts (8) in the process. “I just want to let it go. I don’t want to stop and think. Just enjoy this time, enjoy this environment. And have fun with it.”

The Blue Jackets are in that nervy spot where they can still grab one of the Metropolitan Division’s final two seeds, take a wild card spot, or just completely miss the playoffs. Every game has huge ramifications attached and they also need to do a little scoreboard watching while taking care of their own business. Fortunately, Bobrovsky has been locked in and putting in a strong finish to season that’s personally been an up and down one.

“He’s just so confident in his game right now,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “We want that to continue. We’re doing our best in front of him and he’s obviously there to bail us out right now. It’s been a good marriage. We need that to continue down the stretch.”

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Flyers at Hurricanes, 1:30 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Jets, 7 p.m. ET
Blues at Devils, 7 p.m.  ET
Sabres at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Golden Knights at Sharks, 9 p.m. ET
Stars at Canucks, 10 p.m. ET
Blackhawks at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins

Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Jets vs. Stars
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
• The Maple Leafs will clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point at Ottawa OR if the Canadiens lose in any fashion.

• The Islanders will clinch a playoff berth if they win in any fashion vs. Buffalo; OR if they get one point against vs. Buffalo AND the Canadiens lose in any fashion; OR if the Canadiens lose in regulation.

• The Flames (idle) will clinch the Pacific Division title if the Sharks lose in regulation.

• The Flames (idle) will clinch the top seed in the Western Conference if the Jose Sharks lose in regulation AND the Jets lose in any fashion.

• The Stars will clinch a playoff berth if they win in any fashion at Vancouver.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — Clinched
Capitals — Clinched
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Islanders — 100 percent
Penguins — 99.7 percent
Hurricanes — 93.2 percent
Blue Jackets — 80.2 percent
Canadiens — 31 percent
Flyers — Out
Panthers — Eliminated
Sabres — Eliminated
Rangers — Eliminated
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Jets — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Predators — Clinched
Blues — Clinched
Golden Knights — Clinched
Stars — 99.6 percent
Avalanche — 80.8 percent
Coyotes — 12.8 percent
Wild — 5.5 percent
Blackhawks — 1.1 percent
Oilers — 0.2 percent
Canucks — Eliminated
Ducks — Eliminated
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Devils — 11.5 percent
Red Wings — 9.5 percent
Sabres — 8.5 percent
Ducks — 7.5 percent
Rangers — 6.5 percent
Canucks — 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Panthers — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Coyotes — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 121 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 114 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 104 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 101 points
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins — 97 points
Nathan MacKinnon — 95 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 49 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 47 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 45 goals
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals

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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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