As the NHL takes a two week hiatus for the Sochi Olympics, it gives everyone a chance to take a look at the standings and see how the postseason picture is shaping up. Once the league resumes on February 24, there’ll be just under a month and a half of games left before the playoffs begin. Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins or Anaheim Ducks, could pretty much coast their way through the rest of the season and still get a high seed. Other clubs are either on the bubble or are within a mere point from making the postseason.
The Columbus Blue Jackets qualify for the latter.
Coming into this season with expectations higher than ever, Columbus is just one point behind eighth place Detroit Red Wings. This is thanks to a club record eight game winning streak the team went through in January. After sputtering out of the gate, possibly under the weight of increased pressure to succeed, the Blue Jackets are in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
One of the most important things to note when considering that position is the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Columbus should be applauded just for being this close.
The rash of injuries they’ve had to deal with is astounding. Their best offensive weapon, Marian Gaborik, has only played 18 games and is still inactive. Columbus made a splash in signing Nathan Horton in the offseason, but he didn’t actually get his first game in until January 2. Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky got sidelined, and the team lost backup Curtis McElhinney just days later. This is just some of the marquee names who’ve spent time on the IR, as the overall list is longer than that.
And yet, there they are, within shouting distance of a playoff berth as the season rounds third and heads for home. But the question remains, can they pull it off?
If last year is any evidence, Columbus is definitely capable of surging to the finish line. Left for dead early on, the Blue Jackets ended up missing the playoffs by a tiebreaker last season. Many believed it was the beginning of the end of the team’s status as league doormat. But their early season struggles this year shifted the perspective a bit.
In enduring the losing and injuries that plagued the early months of the season, the Blue Jackets showed they can rise above the hand that’s dealt to them. They also have the talent, a solid mix of savvy veterans and emerging youth, that can carry them to their postseason dreams. It’s all a matter of translating it into wins.
Though the team came into the Olympic freeze on a two game skid, they reopen the season with games against the New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, all teams they’re capable of beating. Nothing would get their sprint to the finish line off to a better start than a three game winning streak.
Again, though, it’s easier to win a game on paper than on the ice. At the same time, the team has a good collection of vets, such as Horton and R.J. Umberger, who’ve been on playoff teams and know what it takes to get there.
They’ve got the talent, and they have the heart, along with a fan base starving to see postseason hockey again. If Columbus can utilize all of these things, it’ll go a long way towards getting them a much-coveted playoff spot.