Hockey Headlines

Monday, 13 March 2017

Jackets Are Included

The Columbus Blue Jackets might be the surprise team in the Eastern Conference this season with their incredible play, outstanding goal differential, and their being in the hunt for top spot in the Metropolitan Division and the NHL. Granted, there are some other good teams in the mix in the Metropolitan Division that they trail in the standings, but it's not like they're far off the pace that Washington and Pittsburgh are running. Tonight was a special night for the Blue Jackets franchise as they set the mark for the best franchise record in a season with their 44th win and a new record for points in a season up which that will likely continue to improve. It's been a pretty good season for Columbus as they get set for the tougher Second Season starting in April.

Brandon Dubinsky scored a power-play goal in the third period to break a 3-3 tie with the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Jackets would set those marks with a 5-3 win over the other Pennsylvania team. I say "the other Pennsylvania team" because it appears that the Pittsburgh Penguins may be the first-round match up for the Jackets, and there's no love lost between these two teams. They met in a heckuva playoff series once already, and it appears they may be preparing to renew acquaintances this spring. For the Blue Jackets, though, they seem to want something more.

"It was a huge two points for us tonight," Brandon Dubinsky told Adam Kimmelman of NHL.com. "We're just trying to look up. Washington is right there, we're right in their rearview mirror. We're going to keep pushing and try to catch those guys."

Could the Blue Jackets actually finish first-overall and capture the President's Trophy for the first time in franchise history? With their win tonight, the Blue Jackets are one point back of both Washington and Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division, and seemed destined to finish with their first 100-point season in team history. Maybe that's not out of reach just yet.

The one factor that we should take into consideration is the remaining schedule for all three teams. Let's run down those games.

COLUMBUS: FLA, NYI, NJD, TOR, WAS, PHI, BUF, CAR, CHI, WAS, PIT, WPG, PHI, TOR.

PITTSBURGH: PHI, NJD, FLA, BUF, OTT, NYI, PHI, CHI, NYR, CAR, CBJ, NJD, TOR, NYR.

WASHINGTON: MIN, NAS, TBL, CAL, CBJ, ARI, MIN, COL, ARI, CBJ, TOR, NYR, BOS, FLA.

I'll assign half a point to teams on the bubble while teams in the playoff picture safely will get a full point. Obviously, the lower the point total it is, the easier the schedule is for that team down the stretch. Bubble teams must be within four points of a playoff spot to count!

Using this method, Columbus faces four teams who will most likely play in the playoffs while two are bubble teams for a total of five points. Pittsburgh sees five playoff-bound teams and one bubble team for a total of 5.5 points. And Washington has the toughest final stretch as they play eight playoff-bound teams and two bubble teams for nine points. Washington also has to deal with Minnesota twice - including tomorrow - and Chicago once, so they may want to regroup quickly after their recent 0-4 run against the Western Conference which allowed both Pittsburgh and Columbus to climb back into the first-overall conversation.

Could they do it? Honestly, they have a good shot when looking at the strength of the schedules. There's a three-game section where their standing might be determined, and that will see them play Chicago, Washington, and Pittsburgh in a five-day stretch from March 31 to April 4. The Blue Jackets will need to be playing their best hockey during that stretch if they hope to have any shot at the President's Trophy as two of those three games are essentially four-point games against the two teams they're competing with for the regular season's top prize.

The Jackets are 2-1-0 against the Capitals this season with one win coming in overtime on November 15. They're also 2-0-1 against the Penguins this season with each team splitting overtime victories. In other words, the Blue Jackets have played well against their divisional rivals this season. That obviously works in their favor when looking at trends. However, we should be wary of those other teams that the Blue Jackets play. The role of spoiler means there's no pressure on those teams.

The only teams that the Blue Jackets see where they have a .500-or-below record this season are the Florida Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres. Against the remaining teams on their schedule, the Jackets have a winning record, but we did see a few teams get stronger at the deadline. Chicago has come on as of late, Toronto added a couple of pieces, and Philadelphia also made some adjustments. What once was may not be heading down the stretch as these teams look to push for or strengthen playoff positions with these additions.

Is it possible? I'm going to say yes. Could the Blue Jackets host a first-round playoff series? I'd say that's even more likely based on Pittsburgh's and Washington's schedules to the end of the season. However, there's still work to be done, and defenceman Seth Jones made that clear in his postgame comments when he stated, "We're just scratching the surface with this group. It's been a great year, we've accomplished a lot, we should be proud of ourselves. The real hockey hasn't started yet."

Blue Jacket fans will get their to see their team play this spring. They will get to see "real hockey" once more. It will be up to the Blue Jackets to determine their own fate once they hit the playoffs, but the accolades earned during the season are results of hard work, determination, and buying in. When things come together, great things can be achieved as the Blue Jackets are proving. But they're not quite done with this season just yet, and the final 14 games will determine the Blue Jackets' path to the Stanley Cup.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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