The Playoff birth is clinched! Now that the Columbus Blue Jackets have made it into the Playoffs, they are fighting for a potential Metro Division spot. They face the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, taking on a team who did them a big favor last night. The Bolts beat the Philadelphia Flyers last night 4-2, keeping the Flyers tied for points with the Jackets and evening out the games played between them. However, the Flyers are still ahead of the Jackets in ROW, so the Jackets need one more point than the Flyers in order to jump them in the standings.
Both Philadelphia and Columbus have two games left to play. The Jackets start a back-to-back tonight in Tampa, and will finish it tomorrow against the Florida Panthers. The Flyers start their back-to-back tomorrow night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and finish off the regular season Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes. All that to say that tonight the Jackets have a chance to get ahead of the Flyers in points.
So, basically, tonight could decide where the Jackets will fall in the standings come next week. Taking on the Lightning means taking on a team six points better in the standings, but not significantly better in records. The Jackets are 42-31-7 this season, while the Lightning are 44-27-9. The Jackets are 20-16-3 on the road this year, and the Lightning are 24-10-6 at home. It should be a good battle tonight! Time to start off the back-to-back on a high note!
Last time the Jackets played back-to-back games, earlier this week, Sergei Bobrovsky started in net both nights. The talks around the coaching staff indicated that he wanted to start both nights, and so they granted his wish. There is no hiding that Bobrovsky has been the Jackets’ most hard-working player this season, especially down this last stretch. Tonight, however, the Jackets are expected to start backup Curtis McElhinney. This is likely because they clinched their Playoff spot on Wednesday, which was the second of back-to-back games for Bobrovsky. This is a good chance to give him a rest, and possibly start him tomorrow for the last game of the regular season.
The games tonight and tomorrow will determine who the Jackets will play in the first round of the Playoffs. Given the current standings, if they finish off the season in third place in the Metro Division, they will play the New York Rangers. If they finished the year with the worst possible outcome (lowest seed in the East), they will the Boston Bruins. If they end up as the fist Wild Card, they would play the Pittsburgh Penguins. And if both the Jackets and the Flyers win both of their next two games and the Rangers lose their last game, the Jackets would play the Flyers.]
On Wednesday it seemed the win in Dallas had settled everything, but there is still a lot up in the air. The most important battle is won, and the second-ever Playoff birth has been clinched. However, now is the time to battle on, and see just how far this team can push themselves in the last two games of the regular season. Go Jackets!