NHL on NBCSN: Blue Jackets could realize playoff goal with win and some help

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Jarmo Keklainen’s big gamble could pay off Tuesday night.

If the Blue Jackets top the Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning in regulation, Columbus will secure a playoff spot. No one will be happier than Kekalainen, who went all-in at the NHL trade deadline in February — adding Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid, while giving up a ton of future assets — and watched his team go 5-7-1 in their first 13 games afterward.

But then a change happened. A Saturday night team dinner in Vancouver, which included an “open discussion,” per Cam Atkinson, saw a positive response the next evening. The Blue Jackets would blank the Canucks 4-0 to end their four-game road trip and begin what has turned into a five-game winning streak — one that has included a return to form for Sergei Bobrovsky, who has three shutouts in his last five starts.

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“Well, life pretty much forced us to be at our best, because if you’re not there you’re not going to make the playoffs – that’s the circumstances,” said Bobrovsky after Sunday’s win over Buffalo.

Not only was Bob back but Columbus’ offense also woke up, scoring 24 goals in five games after netting 22 in their previous 11. Confidence was a big talking point when things weren’t going so well, but that, too, has been discovered during this current winning streak — one that has given them the first Eastern Conference wild card spot over the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens. The Blue Jackets are also in the hunt for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division as they’re three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It would be the third straight spring the Blue Jackets have played playoff hockey, that after only making the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice in their first 15 years of existence. It’s been a trying season, one that has seen the unknown futures of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky hover over the team. But Columbus has not allowed any distractions to upend their goal of making the postseason, and here they are on the verge of getting back in.

There could be plenty of change on the roster in the summer, but Keklainen can’t worry about that right now. The Blue Jackets are too busy focused on the present.

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick.

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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.