The Blue Jackets punched their ticket to the NHL playoffs for a third straight year with their 3-2 shootout win over the Rangers on Friday night. They closed out the regular season with their seventh win in eight games, beating Ottawa 6-2 Saturday to finish with 47 wins and 98 points---the second best regular season in franchise history. Unfortunately for the Jackets, the 98 points were only good enough for the final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot, meaning a first round playoff match-up with Tampa Bay.
The task ahead for the Blue Jackets is daunting. Tampa Bay had a historic regular season. Their 62 wins tied the NHL record for the most regular season victories. Tampa Bay beat the Jackets in all three of their regular season meetings by a combined score of 17-3. The Lightning have elite firepower with three players, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, who scored 40 or more goals this season. The last time that was done was by Pittsburgh in 1995-96 when Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Petr Nedved did it. Kucherov finished with 128 points this season, setting an NHL record for the most points ever by a Russian born player. As a team, the Lightning averaged 3.96 goals per game---the highest in the NHL in 23 years and they had a goal differential this season of plus-103---the second highest in the NHL in the last 20 years and it's not like they just do it with offense. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had the best season of his career, with a 2.40 goals against average. He is among the favorites to win the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league.
But here's the good news for the Blue Jackets. The regular season is over winning the Presidents Trophy does not guarantee post-season success. Only one time in the last 10 years (Chicago, 2013) has the Presidents' Trophy winner won the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, three times over the last 10 years and six times overall, the Presidents Trophy winner has lost in the first round. Perhaps the Blue Jackets can shock the world and add to those numbers. It all gets started Wednesday night in Tampa for game one. The first home game of the series, game three, will be in Nationwide Arena Sunday night. You can check out the entire series schedule below.