Metropolitan Division

Associated Press

Blue Jackets’ wild and wacky season now playoff-bound

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets do themselves no favors after getting hammered by Bruins

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You know it’s not going to be your night when you get scored on early on a goal that had to bounce perfectly past Sergei Bobrovsky and into the back of the net.

And one of the flukier goals you’ll see in hockey seemed to set the tone for an ugly night at the office for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who came into the game with the chance to secure their third straight ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Instead, they’ll have to keep sweating a tight playoff race following a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on NBCSN on Tuesday.

Indeed, the Blue Jackets will keep their playoff spot tonight, just barely. With the Carolina Hurricanes winning 4-1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the former leapfrogged the Blue Jackets into the first wild-card spot. And with the Montreal Canadiens beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2, both they and Columbus are tied on 94 points, with the Blue Jackets holding the tiebreak at this point.

The good news for Columbus, who end the season against the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, is that they control their own destiny still. But it just goes to show that a five-game winning streak can mean very little down the stretch. One bump in the road can undo all that hard work.

It also means that Columbus might have played their final game at home this season, with their remaining two regular-season games coming on the road.

The Bruins ended a two-game skid, and locked up their second seeding in the Atlantic Division after picking up two crucial points (and with help from the Hurricanes, whose win meant Toronto couldn’t catch them any longer).

Boston will now have home-ice advantage in their Round 1 series with the Maple Leafs.

Brad Marchand has had the best season of his career and put an exclamation point on that after his two-point night helped him hit the 100-point milestone for the first time in his career.

Marchand scored his 36th of the season to make it 3-0 and then assisted on David Pastrnak‘s strike that made it 5-0 in the third period. You could see what it meant to his teammates and himself.

Bob was pulled after allowing four goals on 23 shots. Joonas Korpisalo wasn’t any better in relief, allowing two goals on five shots himself.

Columbus mounted a bit of a comeback bid, scoring twice in about 3:30, goals that each came on the power play, including Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s goal that extended his goal-scoring streak to six games. The problem was, five-on-five, the Bruins were simply better and responded just 1:14 after Columbus made it 5-2 with Karson Kuhlman’s third to make it 6-2.

Boston sat on their lead in the third for the most part, getting outshot 17-4 in the frame.


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

Rangers’ Georgiev impressive in shutout of Flyers

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In the twilight of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career, it appears the New York Rangers can rest easy knowing they have a capable heir-apparent to begin filling his legendary shoes.

Alexandar Georgiev is a name the Rangers will be hoping can continue an upward trajectory, and the 23-year-old showed another flash of his skill on Sunday afternoon on NBC, shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 on Star Sunday.

Georgiev turned aside 29 shots on his way to his 13th win of the season and second career shutout.

The Rangers came into the game losers of six straight against the Flyers and were at risk of getting swept by their Metropolitan Division rivals for the first time since the 1984-85 season. That didn’t happen as David Quinn’s young side — the youngest current roster in the NHL at 25.7 years — put together a solid performance, winning their second consecutive game for the first time since Jan. 19 when they won three straight.

Scoring on Sunday came from the Rangers current fountain of youth, with 23-year-old Pavel Buchnevich, 25-year-olds Ryan Strome and Brady Skjei all finding twine for the Blueshirts. A 21-year-old Brett Howden assisted on two goals.

The Flyers entered Sunday fresh of being eliminated from playoff contention 24 hours earlier after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes. The emotion letdown of that was pretty evident from a team dealing with those thoughts and the fatigue playing the second half of a back to back brings.

Philly put in a valiant effort down the stretch. Changes at general manager and head coach will be a big story of the season, as will an eight-game losing streak where they ended up sitting in last place in the NHL. But they showed some promise after clawing back enough points to be relevant until the eve of the final week of the regular season. From Jan. 10 to March 11, they produced the third most points of any team in the NHL, trailing only the juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Louis Blues.

The Flyers will miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last seven years – after making the postseason 16 times in the prior 17 seasons from 1995 to 2012.

Like Georgiev and the Rangers, Carter Hart appears to the be future in Philadelphia. He didn’t have his best outing on Sunday, allowing three goals on 25 shots, but has been a revelation in a town known for its burgeoning goalie graveyard.

Hart came into the game with a .940 save percentage over his past five games.


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

WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Flyers on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Pride will be at stake between the Rangers and Flyers when they meet in the first game on Star Sunday on NBC.

The Flyers were officially eliminated from the playoffs after a tough 5-2 loss on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers, meanwhile, have been out of contention for a while, missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 15 years.

“I think the poor start is the reason that we’re in this position,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Saturday’s game. “Every year it feels like it’s the same story. We need to figure it out…we know we can make the playoffs and be a dangerous team, but we can believe whatever we want. We just have to go out there and make it happen.”

For New York, stopping the Flyers’ six-game winning streak against them — including their three previous meetings this season — will be top of the order. The Flyers haven’t swept the season series since the 1984-85 season.

Philly put up a valiant effort this season after firing the general manager and head coach they began the season with. The Rangers began the season on a rebuilding foot, having brought in David Quinn while selling off several key pieces at the trade deadline.

Despite where both teams find themselves, there won’t be lacking for motivation.

“You want to win hockey games, especially when you’re playing a division rival,” Quinn said.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

WHAT: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 31, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Rangers-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Vladislav NamestnikovFilip ChytilVinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyLias AnderssonRyan Strome
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenBoo Nieves

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brendan SmithNeal Pionk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

FLYERS

James van RiemsdykNolan Patrick — Claude Giroux
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Ryan HartmanScott LaughtonTravis Konecny
Michael RafflCorban KnightPhil Varone

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbeherePhilippe Myers
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Ed Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


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

Ovechkin scores 49th as Capitals extend Metropolitan lead

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The Washington Capitals didn’t clinch a playoff berth with a big win on Tuesday, but they moved another step closer to claiming their fourth consecutive division title.

A 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes gave the Caps some breathing room atop the Metropolitan Division as they moved three points ahead of the New York Islanders, who lost 4-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the idle Pittsburgh Penguins. All three teams have five games remaining now.

The Caps could have clinched a berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs but needed the Florida Panthers and the Blue Jackets to lose in regulation.

That will have to wait, but the Caps are in prime position to officially defend the first championship in franchise history.

The big story coming into this one was, aside from the playoff implications, if Alex Ovechkin would end a four-game goalless drought. Not long ago, his 48 goals seemed like they would be enough to take the Rocket Richard title, but John Tavares‘ four-goal game on Monday put him within three of the misfiring Ovi.

Ovechkin got back on the train in this one, ripping a one-timer from the top of the slot to make it 2-1 in the third period. The goal would stand as the game-winner and put The Great 8 within one of his eighth 50-goal campaign.

When, not if, that happens, Ovechkin will join Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only three players in the NHL’s 101-year history accomplish the feat at least eight times. Both Gretzky and Bossy did it nine times.

Ovechkin got the goal, but it was Evgeni Kuznetsov who really shined in this one.

The younger Russian had a hat trick of assists, including an incredible primary apple that set up T.J. Oshie for the game’s opening marker.

Kuznetsov assisted on Ovechkin’s goal while also providing the screen on it as he dashed through the slot and jumped over Ovi’s shot. He’d assist on John Carlson‘s 3-1 goal, too — which was Carlsson’s 400th career point.

Nicklas Backstrom provided the other marker, an empty netter where he looked back to see where Ovechkin was before driving the final dagger in.

Carolina came into the game with four wins in their past five games while sitting in the first wildcard in the East. That won’t change tonight, but with the Montreal Canadiens thrashing the Florida Panthers 5-1, they’ll only have a one-point lead on the spot with a game in hand.

Both teams will return to the ice against one another on Thursday.


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