The Blue Jackets, riding a five-game winning streak, went into Tuesday night's regular season home finale with the possibility of clinching a playoff spot by nights end. Instead, it was the absolute worse case scenario for the Jackets and their fans. Not only did Columbus get smoked by Boston 6-2, but Carolina beat Toronto 4-1 and Montreal knocked off the NHL's best team, Tampa Bay, 4-2. What that means for the Jackets, with two games to go, is their margin for error is gone. Carolina, who started the night in the final playoff spot in the East, a point behind the Jackets, moved past Columbus into the first Wild Card spot and Montreal, two points back of the Jackets, have now pulled even with the CBJ with 94 points. The good news is, the Jackets still hold the final playoff spot because they own the ROW (Regulation and overtime wins) tie-breaker over the Canadiens.
We really shouldn't be surprised because nothing has come easy for this Blue Jacket team, but the post-season fate for the CBJ will come down to their final two games. The Jackets play at the Rangers Friday and at Ottawa Saturday. If the CBJ win both, they're in the playoffs no matter what happens with Montreal. The Canadiens final two games are Thursday night at Washington and Saturday, at home, against Toronto. Should Montreal lose to Washington Thursday, the Jackets will head into New York Friday knowing that if they beat the Rangers or Ottawa, they're in.
The problem with being the last wild card, however is it means a first round playoff match-up with Tampa Bay, the NHL's best team from start to finish this year. The Lightning are just the third team in NHL history to win 60 games in a regular season. They also dominated the Blue Jackets all three times the teams met in the regular season, winning all three games by a combined score of 17-3. In order to avoid the Lightning, the Jackets need to pass Carolina, but the Hurricane have a favorable schedule. They also play Thursday, at home against New Jersey and then close out the season Saturday at Philadelphia. The Jackets need to win both of their games and hope for at least one Carolina regulation loss in order to secure the first wild card, which would result in a first round series with Washington. The bottom line however is it's better to get in, than not and the Jackets, who have never been to the playoffs three straight years, control their own destiny in that regard.
Below are the post-game comments of Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored last night--his sixth straight game with a goal, Cam Atkinson and coach John Tortorella.