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Push for the Playoffs: Time is now for Blue Jackets

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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 aren’t playing like a team interested in making the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month.

In fact, they look like a rather sad bunch who’ve lost their way in a three-team battle for two spots in the postseason. A western road swing has been a disaster for the Blue Jackets, who dropped a 4-2 decision to the Calgary Flames before putting in a worse effort against the Edmonton Oilers, who beat them 4-1.

So Columbus, who spent big at the trade deadline, find themselves three points back of the Montreal Canadiens for the second and final wildcard in the Eastern Conference. Sure, they have a game in hand, but that, alone, won’t do it. If this team is going to avoid all the embarrassment that comes with being the biggest spenders at the end of February and having nothing to show for it, they need to essentially win out at this point.

That begins with a test against the Vancouver Canucks, a team that has nothing to play for other than pride and who were on a three-game heater before getting beat 3-1 by the Calgary Flames on Saturday.

Despite the three-point gap, the game in hand on Montreal and an uber-important matchup between themselves and the Habs this coming Thursday means Columbus still holds their destiny in their own hands. Columbus will be hoping the Carolina Hurricanes do them a solid and beat the Canadiens in regulation on Sunday.

That all might be a small consolation given the week that lays ahead. After Sunday’s game in Vancouver, they’ll fly across the continent home for two games on Tuesday and then again Thursday against Montreal. From there, they’ll head to Nashville on Saturday night and play back to back 22 hours later on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.

The fun times don’t end there, either.

They then head home for one game against Boston, get two days rest, and then finish the season with games against the New York Rangers on Friday and the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Yes, a back-to-back to close out the regular season where they might need wins in both to make the playoffs.

It’s a brutal haul, and they have no choice but to find success or polish up the Taylor Mades.

The good news is Sergei Bobrovsky could play Sunday after a nagging injury has kept him out of action. They need his heroics, and they’ll need more from the rest of their lineup, too.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Flyers vs. Capitals (12:30 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBC)
Coyotes vs. Islanders (3 p.m. ET)
Canadiens vs. Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET)
Avalanche vs. Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBCSN)
Blue Jackets vs. Canucks (10 p.m. ET)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — Clinched
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Capitals — 99.7 percent
Penguins — 99.8 percent
Islanders — 99.3 percent
Hurricanes — 96 percent
Canadiens — 62.1 percent
Blue Jackets — 42.8 percent
Flyers — 0.3 percent
Panthers — Out
Sabres — Eliminated
Rangers — Eliminated
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Flames — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Jets — Clinched
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Blues — 100 percent
Stars — 86 percent
Avalanche — 59.2 percent
Coyotes — 32.4 percent
Wild — 19.1 percent
Blackhawks — 1.8 percent
Oilers — 0.9 percent
Canucks — 0.6 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Sabres — 6.5 percent
Canucks — 6 percent
Oilers — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Coyotes — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets — 1 percent**

(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)
(**OTT owns CBJ’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 120 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 108 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 102 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 95 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 93 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 40 goals


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

Blue Jackets’ Bobrovsky has been dealing with upper-body injury

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When Sergei Bobrovsky did not play in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night, coach John Tortorella said it was because his goalie was “nicked” and gave no further explanation.

Given that it was the third time the Blue Jackets had not dressed their starter for a key game down the stretch as they try to make the playoffs, it was enough to speculate that perhaps he has been injured for some time now. Especially after the team added Keith Kinkaid at the trade deadline from the New Jersey Devils.

On Saturday, we got a little bit of clarification on what exactly Bobrovsky has been dealing with.

The Blue Jackets’ goalie told the Columbus media that he has been dealing with an upper-body injury that has been bothering him for a while, and that he did not feel he was healthy enough to help the team on Thursday in Edmonton (it likely wouldn’t have mattered as the Blue Jackets only managed a single goal in a 4-1 loss).

Bobrovsky was back at practice on Saturday but said, via Jackets insider Jeff Svoboda, that he will have to see how he feels on Sunday before his status for their game in Vancouver is determined.

As of Saturday the Blue Jackets are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and one point out of a playoff spot.

Depending on what happens with the Montreal Canadiens’ game on Saturday night when they play the Buffalo Sabres, the Blue Jackets could find themselves as many as three points out when they take the ice the on Sunday in Vancouver.

In 55 games this season Bobrovsky has a .909 save percentage for the Blue Jackets.

Like many other key players on the roster, including trade deadline acquisitions Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, he is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

It’s time to push the panic button in Columbus

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Or maybe it’s time to push it a second time. Or hammer it. Yes, maybe that.

After a tough loss to the Calgary Flames, a visit to see the woeful Edmonton Oilers was where the bleeding should have stopped for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It should have.

Instead, the gash only grew on Thursday night.

The Blue Jackets loaded a ball into that noisy cannon of theirs, lit the fuse and found out it was a dud in a 4-1 loss against the Edmonton Oilers, a game Columbus managed just 20 shots against a team that’s given up the sixth most goals this year.

Columbus opened the scoring in the game in the second period and held Edmonton’s forwards to just four shots through two periods. They allowed just 10 shots total through 40. And then the third came and the wheels fell off and the shots kept coming and the Oilers scored three unanswered send Columbus to their second consecutive defeat.

What’s worse, their poor outing allowed the Montreal Canadiens, who were on the right side of a 4-0 decision against the New York Islanders, to leapfrog them into the final wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Matt Duchene said he felt his teammates have become paralyzed by the pressure.

John Tortorella said, “I just don’t think we understand the level that we have to play at right now.”

The hockey world agreed with both assessments.

A team that desperately needs to string together multiple wins, the Blue Jackets have taken two points just four times in their past 10 games. Montreal hasn’t been much better with five wins in the same span, but those extra two points are looking might big right now.

Columbus sold the farm and next year’s crop to pick up Duchene and others at the trade deadline. They now stand to lose a playoff spot, and that might be the least of their concerns if names like Bobrovsky, Panarin, Duchene and Dzingel go bye-bye after the season ends.

There are no games in hand for Columbus. Both they and the Canadiens each have eight games remaining. The Blue Jackets need to square away their issues and figure out who to win.

They still hold their own playoff fate in their hands, with a meeting next week against the Canadiens likely the decider on who makes it and who doesn’t. But their next test awaits in Vancouver on Sunday, a game they can ill-afford to look past.


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

Bobrovsky out again as Blue Jackets face Oilers

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One of the more intriguing aspects of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ late-season push to make the playoffs has been the handful of games in which they have not only rested starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, but have not even dressed him.

Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers will be another one of those games as he will once again not be available.

In the words of head coach John Tortorella, via Blue Jackets insider Jeff Svoboda, it is because “he’s nicked.”

Joonas Korpisalo will get the start with Keith Kinkaid serving as the backup.

There were was even more intrigue to this situation on Thursday when Kinkaid was briefly shaken up in practice following a collision with 6-3, 220-pound forward Josh Anderson, but he seems to be okay and available for backup duties on Thursday.

This will be the third time over the past month that Bobrovsky has not dressed for a game, having also been scratched against the Pittsburgh Penguins back on March 7 in what was at the time a massive game, and then again one week later against the Boston Bruins. The explanation for the scratch against Pittsburgh was so they could rest him and allow him to work on his game (he returned to start one night later at home against the same Penguins team), while the Boston scratch came just one night after he stopped 46 shots in a shutout win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

All of it together leads to a lot of speculation and questions.

Has he been “nicked” up all this time? Does that explain why the Blue Jackets felt the need to trade for Kinkaid and willingly carry three NHL caliber goalies at this point in the season? Does it help explain why Bobrovsky’s performance has dropped off this much for the season as a whole?  Or did they just simply want to keep all of their goalies fresh and give themselves some added depth? Maybe all of the above?

These are questions we probably will not get clear answers to until the end of the season (if at all), but there is definitely a lot to take in here.

Bobrovsky’s .909 save percentage is one of the worst marks of his NHL career and comes during a year in which he is playing for a big contract this summer.

He has been better lately with a .945 save percentage in his past six starts, winning four of them.

The Blue Jackets enter the night with only a one-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and are just 5-6-1 in 12 games since the NHL trade deadline when they added Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Kinkaid in an effort to make one more big run while they still have Artemi Panarin and Bobrovsky on the roster.

Given how much the Oilers have struggled lately and how tight the playoff race is, these are two points the Blue Jackets simply have to get no matter who their goalie is.

Related: Blue Jackets need to take advantage of schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets’ need to take advantage of favorable schedule

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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 Carolina Hurricanes are beginning to strengthen their hold on an Eastern Conference playoff spot. That pretty much heats things up for both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens. Montreal’s only salvation is a wild card place, while the Blue Jackets (and Hurricanes) still have a shot at grabbing one of the Metropolitan Division’s three seeds.

The Blue Jackets started off their four-game road trip with losses to the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames. They head to Edmonton tonight and Vancouver on Sunday in two games where heading home with four points in the bag could go a long way. Of their final nine games, only three come against teams currently in a playoff position. Then there’s March 28 when they host the Canadiens, which could be big boost for either team’s postseason dreams.

“We’ve had a tough schedule, but if you want to make the playoffs and you want to do damage in the playoffs, those are the teams you have to beat,” said defenseman Scott Harrington. “It’s great to prepare us for what’s potentially upcoming and where we want to be.”

Columbus’ biggest issue of late has been their inability to score. They’ve averaged only 2.2 goals per game in their last 12 games. Their big trade deadline acquisitions are still warming up. Matt Duchene has two goals in this last four games after going goalless in this first eight games with the Blue Jackets. Meanwhile, Ryan Dzingel has just one since being dealt from Ottawa.

Given GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s moves at the deadline, there’s pressure on the entire organization to make the playoffs. Columbus is 5-6-1 since the deadline, and while they may have the NHL’s eighth-easiest schedule remaining, those opponents cannot be overlooked.

“We’re not getting the results, which is frustrating, but the process is there,” said Duchene. “The second you deviate from the process is when you start to fail and deserve to fail. We’ll keep going and we’ll stay with it and take it one day at a time.”

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Coyotes at Panthers, 7 p.m. ET
Bruins at Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Lightning at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET
Islanders at Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
Red Wings at Blues, 8 p.m. ET
Penguins at Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Flyers at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Avalanche at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Senators at Flames, 9 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET
Jets at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET
Sharks at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIO
Winnipeg will clinch a playoff berth…

If they defeat Vegas in any fashion

OR

If they get one point against Vegas AND either of the following occurs:

• Arizona loses in regulation
• Both Chicago and Colorado lose in any fashion

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Capitals — 100 percent
Islanders — 99.2 percent
Penguins — 97.0 percent
Hurricanes — 95.8 percent
Blue Jackets — 72.7 percent
Canadiens — 33.6 percent
Flyers — 1.3 percent
Panthers — 0.4 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Jets — 100 percent
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Blues — 99.7 percent
Stars — 95.5 percent
Coyotes — 54.2 percent
Avalanche — 23.6 percent
Wild — 15 percent
Blackhawks — 10.4 percent
Canucks — 1.3 percent
Oilers — 0.3 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Sabres — 6.5 percent
Oilers — 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Avalanche — 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 — 119 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 105 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 101 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 93 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 92 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 41 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 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.