BLUE JACKETS (46-31-4) at SENATORS (29-46-6)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Canadian Tire Centre, Kanata (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
In game 81, the Blue Jackets clinched a playoff bid.
But that doesn't mean game 82 is meaningless for Columbus.
The Jackets can still improve their postseason lot with a win Saturday night in Ottawa. Carolina is just one point ahead of the Blue Jackets, and if Columbus can earn one more point than the Canes on Saturday night, they will pass the self-proclaimed "Bunch of Jerks" for the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, this is somewhat important because it impacts who each team will play in the postseason. The first wild card will get defending Stanley Cup champion Washington, while the second will have to face a Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay team that is a win away Saturday night from tying for the most wins in NHL history.
"We're (in the playoffs) now, gotta play another game here tomorrow night," head coach John Tortorella said after the victory against the Rangers on Friday night. "I think it means something, I believe. I haven't even looked that far, but we're going to try to play the right way."
As Tortorella suggested, so much focus was placed on the Rangers game, the team hasn't even had a chance yet to look at the finale vs. the Senators.
Whether the team will make any lineup changes remains to be seen, but it seems likely they'll make a good faith effort to try to earn the win in Ottawa given what is at stake.
Still, a burden has at least been taken off of the Jackets, who went into New York City battling with Montreal for the final playoff spot in the NHL. Now, the field is set and the Jackets are in it, so the pressure is off.
Both sides of the coin were in the mind of Matt Duchene, the former Senator, when he spoke to the media in the Madison Square Garden locker room after the game.
"It's great," he said. "We're going to enjoy it tonight, even tomorrow before we start preparing. Obviously we have one more game, and we want to win that game because you never know what it could mean, but at the same time this is exciting and we need to take this in and enjoy it."
For a player like Duchene, this could be a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity, as he's made the playoffs only twice previously in his 10-year NHL career.
For the franchise in general, it's the third consecutive playoff appearance and fifth all-time, and the Jackets want to make noise this time around after four previous first-round exits.
There's a theory that a team has to learn how to win in the NHL before having postseason success, and the Jackets have appeared to be getting closer and closer in past seasons. This year, the squad's 46 wins are the second-most in franchise history, and the hope is an aggressive series of moves at the deadline will help the team go further than it has before.
Still, no matter who the team plays in the first round, it will be a challenge.
"No matter who we play, they're good teams," captain Nick Foligno said. "But if we can get to our game, it's going to make it hard on anyone."
Know the Foe
Ottawa has had a rough season and was forced to trade three of its top scorers at the deadline.
Of course, two of them ended up in Columbus in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. The two combined for 49 goals and 102 points this year with the Sens, but they were jettisoned along with Mark Stone (28-34-62, traded to Vegas) at the deadline.
Since then, Ottawa has been playing out the string with the Senators boasting the lowest amount of points and goal differential in the Eastern Conference. The team went 6-7-1 in March after the deadline passed and is 1-2 in April.
Among players still around, All-Star defenseman Thomas Chabot has had a great season, posting 13 goals and 41 assists for 54 points, the top total among current Sens. Chris Tierney has added a 9-38-47 line, while 19-year-old Brady Tkachuk has 22 goals and 45 points in his rookie campaign. Since coming over from the Blue Jackets in the Dzingel trade, Anthony Duclair has an 8-6-14 line in 20 games.
In net, there are three goalies on the roster in Craig Anderson (17-26-4, 3.46, .904), Anders Nilsson (11-11-0, 2.92, .915) and Joey Daccord (0-1-0, 5.00, .875). Anderson is a 37-year-old veteran in his ninth season with Ottawa, while Nilsson came over in a midseason trade with Vancouver and Daccord is a rookie signed out of Arizona State recently who has played in one game.
Know what's at stake: It was a bit of a muted celebration Friday as the Blue Jackets know how far a win in Ottawa can go. The Jackets seem to want to finish on a high note and see if they can pass Carolina.
Fill the net: Ottawa has given up 295 goals this year, an average of 3.64 per game and the most since Philadelphia ceded 297 in 2006-07. Columbus could use a burst of offensive confidence going into the postseason as well.
Forecheck: Columbus is at its best when it makes it hard on the opposition to get out of its own zone. Given the youth on this Ottawa team, the more aggressive the Jackets are, the better.
Five former Blue Jackets -- Duclair, Brian Gibbons (6-7-13 in 19 games), Justin Falk (10 games, zero points), Cody Goloubef (five games, zero points) and Vitaly Abramov (one game, zero points) -- have suited up for the Senators this season. Marian Gaborik has also been on injured reserve all season with a back injury. ... CBJ captain Foligno spent five seasons with the Sens before being traded for Marc Methot. He had a 61-87-148 line in 351 games in the Canadian capital. … Columbus has won the first two games of the season series. … The Jackets' 46 wins are second all-time in franchise history. ... Boone Jenner is one point from 200 in his NHL career. … Cam Atkinson is one goal away from setting a new franchise record for the season with 42 tallies.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Josh Anderson
Alexandre Texier - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Riley Nash - Brandon Dubinsky - Nick Foligno
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - David Savard
Dean Kukan - Scott Harrington
Scratched: Markus Hannikainen, Lukas Sedlak, Eric Robinson, Alexander Wennberg, Adam Clendening, Adam McQuaid, Andrew Peeke, Keith Kinkaid, Elvis Merzlikins
Roster Report: Columbus will not have a morning skate in Ottawa, and it remains to be seen if any edits are made to the lineup that clinched the playoff bid vs. New York.