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Anatomy of a win streak: How the Blue Jackets have caught fire

Five straight victories have Columbus on brink of playoff return

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

When the Blue Jackets woke up the morning of Sunday, March 24, the Blue Jackets had a 43.7 percent chance of making the playoffs according to MoneyPuck.com's simulations. 

It was a bit of a dark time. Columbus had lost three games in a row, including a listless 4-1 performance in Edmonton that signaled alarm bells. Carolina and Montreal were red hot, moving five and three points ahead of the Jackets, respectively. 

The margins were seven for the Canes and four for the Habs by the time the Jackets took the ice that night at Vancouver thanks to Carolina's overtime win over Montreal that Sunday. For the Blue Jackets, the margin for error had been shaved to about zero. 

What a difference (just over) a week can make. Columbus responded with five wins in eight days by a combined score of 24-4. Suddenly, the NHL's hottest team has passed both Carolina and Montreal and can clinch a playoff spot as early as Tuesday night with a win and a Canadiens loss.  

No fooling -- on April 1, the Jackets have a 92.0 percent chance to clinch their third straight playoff spot. 

Video: Blue Jackets blank Sabres for fifth straight win

It begs the question: What happened? 

A lot, it turns out. There might have been a season-saving meeting in Vancouver, though details on that are a bit murky. Just about everyone seems to have found their game at the right time. And the return of captain Nick Foligno to the team feels like just the boost the Jackets needed. 

Let's take a moment, then, to look back at the crazy week-plus that was. 

A dinner meeting: The Blue Jackets had the day off Friday in Vancouver after the Edmonton loss. Some players headed to the beautiful mountains just north of the city, while others stayed closer to the team hotel, some watching some March Madness basketball or checking out the local restaurant scene. 

Columbus then held a spirited and energetic practice Saturday morning, but the real big moment might have come that evening. Head coach John Tortorella said after practice that day the team would have dinner and a beer that evening. 

By the time the Jackets took the ice that night against Vancouver, they looked like a different team. Not many specifics from the dinner have come out -- "None of your business," Tortorella said when asked about it yesterday -- but some players said the team dinner got everyone on the same page. 

"I think we talked among the group and tried figuring out what was going on," Cam Atkinson said. "There was a lot of open discussion and I think getting things off guys' chests. I think when you talk among the group and the players and really figure out what's going on, I think that's the biggest thing for us, and we turned the page." 

"We had some honest discussion about where we are," Seth Jones added. 

"Sometimes it's just some brutal honesty, and you get through it and you become a better player and a better pro and a better team," said Foligno, who wasn't with the team but was in contact with players. "I think you can just see it. We've become a team here, and that's really dangerous coming down the stretch." 

Confidence is back: Meetings are great, but at some point you have to play better on the ice, and Columbus was struggling pretty badly by the time the Vancouver game came around.  

The Blue Jackets had scored 22 goals over the previous 11 games, and that was inflated by a seven-goal outburst vs. Boston. The team just wasn't scoring, and it looked against Edmonton once the Jackets fell into a third-period hole that the team's top skill players were trying to make "hero" plays themselves by skating through the entire defense rather than working within the team concept. 

Things, of course, took off from there. It started with a five-goal outburst against Vancouver, a struggling team that is out of the playoff race, which was followed by a four-goal showing vs. a stingy Islanders team. Next up was a 6-2 win over Montreal that put the Jackets back on the right side of the playoff bar, then there were two workmanlike wins over the weekend at Nashville and Buffalo. 

You can follow the team's progression through a series of Tortorella quotes. Before the Vancouver game, he spoke at length with the media about how the Blue Jackets needed to stop worrying about expectations and just play, and he focused especially about how the team needed to see good performances like the Calgary loss turn into results. 

"They have got to feel a result to not let their confidence waver, because that can go either way if we don't start getting results," he said. "We need to just find a way to play with confidence, release ourselves and play, and keep our game simple and get out and attack." 

After the Vancouver game: "I think winning a game and scoring some goals and seeing some guys make some plays helped the confidence." 

By the morning of the Montreal game: "The game is about the mind, not X's and O's. It's about the mind." 

Clearly, the Jackets are now in a much better spot mentally, and the play has done nothing but improve from there. 

Bobrovsky's big week: How does three shutouts and only four goals allowed in five games sound? 

Pretty good, but the bigger deal for Bobrovsky might just be how much the goaltender seems to be enjoying himself right now.  

Video: Georgiev, Kuemper, Bobrovsky earn Pepsi Zero Shutouts

He appears relaxed during his recent dominating stretch that earned him NHL first star honors for the week. Twice, he's left the media scrum in stitches with joking exchanges, including Sunday night when asked about the save he appeared to make with his head on Buffalo's Jack Eichel. 

Video replays appeared to show the puck going off Bobrovsky's mask before going wide of the net, but the goalie himself said he didn't feel any contact between the puck and his lid. When told it would make for a better story if he did make the save with his mask, Bobrovsky couldn't help but crack up. 

"I would think that, too," he said amid the laughter, "but I don't want to lie." 

Sure, that's anecdotal evidence, but if there's one word Bobrovsky has used a lot recently, it's a simple one. 

Fun. 

"It's so much fun to play, so I am just happy to be part of this team right now," he said after the Buffalo game. 

Red-Hot Jackets: The list of Blue Jackets who are in the midst of excellent stretches on the stat sheet right now is long and distinguished.  

There's the Ottawa duo, Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene. The Ohio State product had two assists Sunday and suddenly has five points in his last six games, while Duchene has clicked with top-line wingers Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson with five assists in his last four games. 

Panarin has started to look like the Breadman that fans have come to love, including a four-assist night in Nashville that allowed him to set the franchise record with 83 points this season. Panarin has two goals and five assists in his last five games. 

The five-game goal streak for The Maestro, Oliver Bjorkstrand, has earned plenty of press, and Pierre-Luc Dubois got back on the points train with a 1-2-3 line in Buffalo. And let's not forget Markus Nutivaara, the breakout pass aficionado who has four assists and a plus-7 rating in his last seven games, or David Savard, who had three goals in the last six games with a plus-6 rating. 

Video: CBJ@BUF: Dubois redirects Jones' snipe past Ullmark

But no one might be feeling better than Zach Werenski, the third-year defenseman whose game has jelled with Seth Jones. When Ryan Murray went down with injury, the Jackets needed Werenski to settle in with the All-Star Jones, and over the last 10 games he has a 2-6-8 line, is plus-6 and is playing more than 23 minutes per game. 

Suddenly, the Blue Jackets have found their No. 1 pairing at the end of a year for Werenski that has included bumps in the road but ultimately a lot of growth in his game. 

"I think he's made tremendous improvements as far as his positioning, as far as his competitiveness on pucks," Tortorella said. "That's a big part of playing defense, and his offense, I think he feels really comfortable. I like the pair. I think they've given us some good minutes, and I think Zach has had a tremendous improvement this year in the things we've asked him to do." 

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