Coming into this past week, the Columbus Blue Jackets were one of the fringe teams in the Eastern Conference. Hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot, the club needed to put some space between themselves and the handful of teams below them fighting to steal their position in the standings.
An overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche, while unfortunate, netted Columbus a crucial point. However, the Jackets obviously needed more. Sure enough, they got it, winning two of their next three and giving themselves a three point threshold between themselves and the New Jersey Devils. If the Jackets are searching for someone to thank most for the two wins, they can look no further than their starting netminder. Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky posted shutouts in each victory, and for a team desperate for points, his performances have been crucial.
Yes, Columbus lost in backbreaking fashion Friday night to the Chicago Blackhawks, as Bobrovsky gave up the game-winner with 3.9 seconds left in regulation. However, the Jackets starter took his lumps, regrouped and stopped all 31 shots the New York Islanders threw at him yesterday. Obviously, the Islanders aren’t as intimidating as Chicago, but still, Friday’s loss could’ve caused Bobrovsky to unravel. It wouldn’t have been too surprising if Columbus came out a little flat yesterday, still upset after missing out on what looked like at least one much-needed point. Instead, the Jackets blew out New York while their goalie turned away every shot faced.
It’s looking like, for the second straight year, the Jackets are making a legit push for the playoffs, and once again their backstop is a big reason why. Though his stats aren’t as impressive as they were last season, he’s doing everything he can to try and get his team into the postseason.
Obviously, Bobrovsky isn’t the sole reason the Blue Jackets are on the cusp of a playoff berth. Ryan Johansen has exploded onto the scene, leaping from five goals last season to 31 this year. The team is also seeing significant contributions from both their veterans – R.J. Umberger, Brandon Dubinsky – as well as their younger players, such as Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner.
That said, Bobrovsky came into this season with quite a large spotlight cast upon him. He was the league’s top goalie a year ago, and had inked a new contract with Columbus in the offseason. The deal was just two years in length, as the Jackets rightly wanted to see if Bobrovsky could prove he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He’s run into a few injuries this year, but when he’s been in net, he’s almost always giving his team a chance to win. Columbus has teetered a few times this season, looking like they might miss out on the playoffs. However, when healthy, Bobrovsky remained a steady presence in net.
Now, the Jackets enter the final week of the season sitting in decent shape. Anything can happen in these last four games, and the club could tumble at the last second. However, with Bobrovsky patrolling the crease, the Columbus faithful have a reason to believe they’ll see postseason hockey for the second time in franchise history.