Why? There's a very good chance the Jackets will snap seven-straight seasons of postseason futility by making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time. And Columbus General Manager Scott Howson can sense the excitement.
"There's certainly excitement in the building and in the city right now," Howson said.
"We've had three or four sellouts in the last seven or eight games. We've had really strong crowds that haven't been sellouts yet. The people are excited. I'm a relative newcomer to the community. People told me all last year and the beginning of this year if the team gets in the race, then the community's really going to step up to the plate. You can see that in the buzz in the building; it's different now than it was two months ago."
Columbus (31-25-6), 7-2-1 over its last 10 games, is currently sixth in the Western Conference with 68 points. The Jackets can certainly gain additional ground this week with a schedule chock-full of Western Conference foes, including games in Vancouver (70 points) Sunday, home to Los Angeles (61 points) Tuesday, in Nashville (66 points) Thursday and in Detroit (90 points) Saturday.
Additionally, Columbus still has plenty of Central Division business to tend to with four games with Chicago (77 points), three with Nashville and three with St. Louis (64 points). Howson said his team would be a tough out if they are a part of the postseason mix.
"I think our team, first, you start with goaltending in the playoffs and I think we've got a great young goalie (Steve Mason) who is going to have his bumps as he goes through the young part of his career," Howson said. "But we have a lot of faith in him so I think you start with goaltending. That gives you a chance."
Mason needs one more shutout to break Ken Dryden's 37-year-old NHL record for shutouts by a rookie. He notched his eighth goose egg of the season on 19 saves in a 1-0 victory over Edmonton Thursday.
"Our team is big, has some size, has a little bit of quickness, too," Howson said. "I think we would be a handful for any team. But the challenge for us is going to get there because, as you guys all know, it's so tight right now. We went on a little run there last week, gave ourselves a four-point cushion and now it's back to the same old, same old. Getting in will be our biggest challenge. If we get in, we think we can present a challenge for any of the top four teams."
Trading places -- It's time to take inventory here at NHL.com. There are 12 games scheduled on the eve of the NHL's trade deadline -- which falls at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Philadelphia (seller) at Boston -- The Flyers won't possess the cap space to add the goalie or defenseman they seem to covet unless they start moving some bodies of their own. Rumors have had GM Paul Holmgren packaging forward Joffrey Lupul and defender Randy Jones to Florida for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. It's also worth noting that forward Mike Knuble and goalies Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki are unrestricted free agents at the conclusion of the season.
Los Angeles (seller) at Columbus -- This could turn out to be the final game for a few Los Angeles veterans, including Denis Gauthier, Sean O'Donnell or Kyle Calder. Each of them could actually play a bigger role for a team challenging for the big prize this spring and, in the process, offer the Kings further cap space to make certain they keep their youth movement intact. Don't forget, Los Angeles will have a League-high 14 picks at the 2009 Entry Draft in June, including a pair of second-round choices and three fourth-rounders. The Kings, led by Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, Alexander Frolov, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, average 25.7 years-of-age.
Florida at Atlanta (seller) -- Panthers GM Jacques Martin may have the biggest bargaining chip at his disposal in defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, but he has made it very clear that his MVP will not be dealt if he deems the compensation unfit for the future of his franchise. Atlanta, however, is an entirely different story. While it's pretty safe to assume GM Don Waddell will not trade captain Ilya Kovalchuk, there are still several hot commodities on the roster, including defenseman Niclas Havelid, an unrestricted free agent this summer, forwards Marty Reasoner and Eric Perrin and starting goalie Kari Lehtonen.
New Jersey at Toronto (seller) -- The only lock expected to be traded by Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is pending unrestricted free agent forwa rd Nik Antropov. After that, it's a bit dicey, even though the names Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina and Vesa Toskala have been brought up numerous times.
Calgary at Ottawa (seller) -- Ottawa GM Bryan Murray has two unrestricted free agents he'd be willing to deal for the right price in defenseman Filip Kuba and third-line wing Chris Neil. Another player to toss into the mix is the newly acquired and pending UFA Mike Comrie, who would no doubt like a long-term deal. Neil's situation is a tough one since he won't be ready to play until after the trading deadline as he's missed the last 10 games with a right calf injury suffered Feb. 7.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (seller) -- While Lightning GM Brian Lawton has stated he would not move Vinny Lecavalier, it doesn't mean he won't be busy at the deadline. Among the UFA's on the roster are veterans Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi and Marek Malik. Roberts and Recchi have combined for three Stanley Cup victories and could offer an experienced dressing room presence for any contending team. Lawton might also consider offers for 32-year-old forward Jeff Halpern, who has one year remaining on his contract.
Edmonton at Nashville (seller) -- The Preds might be looking to deal faceoff specialist Radek Bonk or defensemen Greg deVries or Greg Zanon, a tremendous shot blocker, for the right price, but don't hold your breath as GM Dave Poile is more than likely to stand pat. Goalies Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis are still under contract through next season. Nashville, winner of four straight and 11-5-1 s ince the All-Star break, owns 12 picks at the 2009 Draft, including two in the second round and two in the third.
Anaheim (seller) at Chicago -- Anaheim's nucleus appears to be center Ryan Getzlaf, right wing Corey Perry and rookie wing Bobby Ryan, while goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere and right wing Teemu Selanne own contracts that contain no-trade clauses. It might make sense for GM Bob Murray to seek established players with his team currently tied for seventh with Edmonton in the Western Conference and with assets such as defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, it might make sense to act now. Niedermayer will be an unrestricted at season's end while Pronger has one year remaining on his contract. Left Wing Travis Moen, who also becomes a UFA at the end of the season, could be packaged with any of the two defensemen to sweeten the deal.
Detroit at St. Louis (seller) -- St. Louis remains very much in the thick of the playoff hunt, which means the odds of dealing veteran Keith Tkachuk are now slim. Still, Tkachuk has plenty of game left in that 36-year-old body so the Blues will have to consider serious offers. Additionally, forward Dan Hinote and goalie Manny Legace are both unrestricted at the end of the season and could be a quick fix for any contender.
Minnesota (seller) at Vancouver -- It appears the Wild will lose 26-year-old forward Marian Gaborik this off-season unless there's a GM willing to part with a high draft pick for the injury-riddled Slovak at the deadline. Gaborik had surgery on his left hip Jan. 5. The trade of standout goalie Nicklas Backstrom, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the se ason, would certainly transform a top contending team into a favorite while almost guaranteeing future rewards for the Wild.
Victor Victoria! -- The anniversary of the first organized indoor ice hockey game, held March 3, 1875 at Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal, will be Tuesday.
The contest had two teams with nine players aside -- there were goalies, a referee, a puck, a set of rules and a pre-determined length of time (60 minutes). The significance of this event is the fact games prior had mostly been held outdoors with sticks and balls.
The game was played with a wooden puck instead of a lacrosse ball and sticks and skates for the contest were imported from Nova Scotia. The game was even pre-announced to the public in the pages of The (Montreal) Gazette. The popularity of the game increased from that day forward and led to the forming of the Victoria Hockey Club in 1881.
The wave -- For the second time in two weeks, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Verizon Center to battle Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals Sunday.
It occurred in the final minute of the middle stanza after Ovechkin gave Crosby a nudge while both were skating to their respective benches. Crosby then retaliated by pushing Ovechkin over the boards at the Capitals' bench before Ovie gave Sid a squeeze around the neck, knocking off his helmet and prompting an official to break up the scrum. Clearly annoyed, Crosby voiced his frustration to the linesman while Ovechkin just smiled and waved to the Pens captain.
The Caps’ victory assured the team a clinch of the season series -- having already won three of the four meetings -- for just the second time in the last 16 seasons. The only other time over that span that the Caps got the best of the Pens was in 2002-03. Additionally, a Washington triumph will mark the first time in franchise history that it will have swept a season series from the Penguins. The game in Washington will mark the last of a season-high five-game road swing for Pittsburgh.
NBC Game of the Week – The Boston Bruins face off against the New York Rangers in the NBC Game of the Week.
They will be meeting for the third time this season with both teams having already earned a victory. The Bruins have gained points in their last seven meetings with the Rangers, going 4-0-3 over that stretch, including a shootout loss in New York on Nov. 15. Boston's last regulation setback to the Rangers was a 7-0 defeat on March 17, 2007. Four of the last seven games between the teams have been decided by shootout.
Following two-straight losses since being hired, John Tortorella celebrated his first victory behind the Rangers’ bench Saturday following a 6-1 victory over the Avalanche.
"I am excited to be here, and it's a privilege to coach in this organization, but this is not about me," Tortorella said. "It's about a hockey team trying to find its way that's gone through a bit of an ordeal here in the past few weeks. It's about a team trying to make the playoffs."
Boston sits comfortably atop the Eastern Conference with 93 points while the Rangers, 3-4-3 over their last 10, are sixth with 72 -- two ahead of the resurgent Florida Panthers.
Air time - The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).
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