Four games ago, the Jackets faced the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who were (and are) battling for playoff positioning. After a game vs. Detroit at home, Columbus then headed to Carolina to take on a Hurricanes squad in the mix for the Presidents' Trophy. Finally, Monday night, the Blue Jackets returned home to play Nashville, a team in a furious battle for the last playoff spot in the Central Division.
Yet in all four of those games, Columbus has left with at least a point, as all four have gone to overtime. The Jackets are just 1-0-3 in those games, including Monday night's 4-3 OT loss to the Predators, but they have put together a point streak with a depleted lineup against teams with a lot to play for.
"We just haven't given up," defenseman Michael Del Zotto said after Monday's comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the third period spurred on by Emil Bemstrom's natural hat trick. "Every game. Look at Tampa, Carolina, the best team in the league, we played with them all night. We're playing a very simple game. Guys are working their tails off.
"We have talked about it, you give that effort every single night, you have a chance to win. And of course (goalie) Elvis (Merzlikins) has stood on his head and made some saves to keep us in games.
"It's impressive what our group is doing right now. Would we like to get two points more often than not? Of course. But you have to be pretty impressed with the way we're handling things these days."
It's following the mantra put down by head coach John Tortorella, who has asked his team simply to show up and work down the stretch despite the fact the team's four-year playoff streak has come to an end.
The Jackets have done just that, with some help from a leadership group that includes Del Zotto and alternate captains Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson.
"I just think the way the leadership has the guys playing," Zac Dalpe said. "You read Cam Atkinson's quotes about you don't want to get embarrassed. You want to play for pride, and I think those guys with Del Z and Cam and Jonesy right on through the room, they have the locker room, the dressing room dailed in that we need to play that old-fashioned Blue Jackets hockey that is hard to play against."
Know the Foe
With a win tonight vs. the Blue Jackets and a Dallas loss in regulation at Tampa Bay, Nashville will clinch the fourth and final spot in the Central Division playoffs.
"This is the best time of the year," leading scorer Filip Forsberg said. "This is great. You want to be in these nice, tight games, you want to play these games and they mean so much. There's a couple things that we definitely can tighten up for the next game on Wednesday."
That seemed not quite impossible but unlikely when the Preds won just 13 of their first 31 games, but Nashville has turned it on with a 16-5-1 stretch.
Nashville has outscored teams by an average of 3.31-2.23 in that span, with one of the keys the play of goaltender Juuse Saros. After a slow start, Saros has pushed himself into the mix for the Vezina Trophy with a 17-5-1 run over the last 24 games in which he has a 1.87 GAA and .943 save percentage. In those 24 games, he's allowed more than two goals just five times, and on the year, the Finnish goalie now has a 20-10-1 record, 2.30 GAA and .928 save percentage.
Even more impressive is that the Preds are doing it while banged up right now. Forwards Viktor Arvidsson (upper body), Colton Sissons (upper body) and Mathieu Olivier (lower body) as well as defensemen Mark Borowiecki (upper body), Dante Fabbro (upper body) and Luca Sbisa (upper body) all missed Monday's game.
It's been a team effort for Nashville, whose leader scorer is perennial Norris Trophy contender Roman Josi (8-25-33), who had two goals Monday night. Fifteen players have at least five goals and 17 have at least 10 points.
Filip Forsberg has continued to shine during an injury-plagued season, posting 12 goals and 31 points in 36 games, while Calle Jarnkrok (12-14-26), Mikael Granlund (13-12-25) and Viktor Arvidsson (10-15-25) are each boave the 25-point mark.
Former CBJ centers Ryan Johansen (6-14-25 in 44 games) and Matt Duchene (4-7-11 in 31 games) also chip in. Johansen scored just his second goal ever vs. the team that drafted him Monday in 13 games.
3 Keys to the Game
Finish it off: Columbus keeps going to overtime but isn't getting the reward, with a 5-12 overall mark when a game goes past 60 minutes and a 2-9 mark in 3-on-3 OT. It's a spot that there can be quick improvement.
Win special teams: Columbus doesn't draw a ton of penalties, but with the Preds 29th in the league in penalty kill (75.0 percent), perhaps a goal could be stolen there. Nashville also is 25th in power-play percentage (17.9 percent). Each team had a power-play goal Monday.
Play spoiler: The Preds can clinch a postseason berth with a win and help, but Columbus can prevent that. That's where someone like goalie Elvis Merzlikins (.935 save percentage in his last seven games) can perhaps steal a game.
Set to play in his 300th NHL game tonight, Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the team in all three major statistical categories this year with a 15-24-39 line plus three shootout goals in four chances. ... Cam Atkinson is one point from 400 in his career (212-187-399), while Jack Roslovic is one from 100 (36-63-99). … Bemstrom's hat trick was the first of the season for Columbus and the fourth time a CBJ player has scored three goals in a period (first time all three were in the third period). ... Domi has posted 3-7-10 in his last 14 games played. … Tortorella has 671 career wins, one behind Mike Keenan for 12th place in NHL history. … Columbus has stopped 50 of 56 power-play chances against (89.3 percent) in the last 22 games, second in the NHL. … CBJ have scored the first goal of the game on 31 occasions, tied for fifth-most in the NHL… The Blue Jackets play their lone Wednesday contest of the season. … The Blue Jackets are 1-5-1 this season against Nashville but 1-1-1 in Nationwide Arena.
Projected Lineup presented by Blue Technologies
(Subject to change)
Oliver Bjorkstrand - Max Domi - Cam Atkinson
Mikhail Grigorenko - Jack Roslovic - Emil Bemstrom
Liam Foudy - Kevin Stenlund - Patrik Laine
Eric Robinson - Ryan MacInnis - Nathan Gerbe
Michael Del Zotto - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - Mikko Lehtonen
Gavin Bayreuther - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Stefan Matteau, Kole Sherwood, Gabriel Carlsson, Scott Harrington, Andrew Peeke
Taxi squad: Adam Clendening, Daniil Tarasov, Cam Johnson
Injured: Zac Dalpe (lower body injury, out for season), Alexandre Texier (lower body injury, day to day), Gus Nyquist (shoulder, out for the season), Zach Werenski (sports hernia, out for the season), Boone Jenner (broken finger, out for the season), Joonas Korpisalo (lower-body injury, out for the season), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, LTIR).
Roster report: The Blue Jackets made a late change, with Dalpe and Texier out and Stenlund and MacInnis entering the lineup. Merzlikins is expected to get the start again.