Blue Jackets’ wild and wacky season now playoff-bound

Associated Press

It took 81 games and a whole lot of uncertainty, but the Columbus Blue Jackets are playoff bound for the third straight year.

Nothing has come easy in Ohio this season. Even in the clincher, a 3-2 shootout win against the New York Rangers, the Blue Jackets had to come from behind against a team nowhere near the playoffs, watch as said team tied the game with an empty net and six seconds left on the game clock and then endure a nailbiting overtime period before taking it in the lottery round.

But none of that really matters now. Columbus is in.

After choosing to go all-in and forgoing any return on investment with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.

After selling off part of the farm and nearly their entire 2019 NHL Draft for Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and others.

After Bobrovsky’s struggles and weird absences and benchings (allegedly).

History cares little about how you made it, only that you did.

And now all that matters is what the Blue Jackets do now that they’re in. In their 18-year history as a franchise, they’ve played just 21 postseason games. You can do the math, but it adds up to no series wins in that time. They’ve never made it out of the first round and will be in tough once again, regardless if they finish in the first wildcard, which they can do with a win tomorrow and a Carolina loss, or the second wildcard, which they currently own after eliminating the Montreal Canadiens in Friday’s win.

There will certainly be extra incentive to put in a good performance on Saturday in the second game of a back to back. The prospects of playing the Tampa Bay Lightning if they finish in the second wildcard seed aren’t good.

Playing Washington, and having a chance to exact some revenge after last year’s debacle, would be preferred because, a) it’s not the Lightning, and b) there’s that extra motivation for retribution (but mostly a).

Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t make all those moves in late February for the rollercoaster to end in Round 1. He’s got too much skin in the game.

Now it’s time to see if all that pays off.

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

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

tampa bay lightning
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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.