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Who to cheer for: March 21

Columbus in battle to clinch third straight playoff berth

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Going into Thursday's game at Edmonton, the Columbus Blue Jackets are holding on to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. 

It's a big night of hockey for the Blue Jackets, who will also see some of their top rivals for postseason positioning hit the ice as well.  

The team directly in front of the Blue Jackets - Carolina, which is three points ahead - and the one right behind them - Montreal, which is just a point behind - are in action, as are Metropolitan Division rivals Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders.  

With that in mind, will take a look at the playoff race over the final few weeks as it develops with a guide of which teams Columbus fans should be rooting for at each moment in time.

Thursday, March 21 

Who to cheer for: Columbus Blue Jackets over Edmonton Oilers 

Why: This one is obvious, and the Blue Jackets are facing a team that is fighting for its playoff lives. Columbus has to match that desperation, and the Jackets should be looking for payback after suffering a 4-0 loss to Edmonton on March 2. 

Who's chasing whom: Columbus has four teams ahead of it in the Metro race and would like to move out of eighth place in the East, which would mean avoiding Presidents' Trophy winner Tampa Bay in the first round. 

When: 9 p.m. ET, FSO  


Who to cheer for: Tampa Bay Lightning over Carolina Hurricanes 

Why: As Columbus tries to reel in Carolina, the main reason would be to avoid the Lightning, who are just five wins away from tying the NHL record for victories in a season. Tampa Bay is coming off a wild, intense overtime win at Washington last night, and it won't be easy for the Lightning in Carolina with the Storm Surge awaiting. 

Who's chasing whom: Columbus is three points behind the 'Canes for seventh in the Eastern Conference, and Carolina has a game in hand as well.  

When: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN+ 

Who to cheer for: New York Islanders over Montreal Canadiens 

Why: This is one where you could consider rooting for either in some ways, but making the playoffs is job No. 1 right now, and Montreal is the closest team chasing the Jackets. It would be great, though, if Columbus could chase down the Isles, but closing a seven-point gap in nine games is hard, even if the Jackets do host New York next week. 

Who's chasing whom: Columbus holds a one-point lead on the Canadiens for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, and the Jackets are seven points behind the second-place Isles in the Metro. 

When: 7:30 p.m. ET 

Who to cheer for: Nashville Predators over Pittsburgh Penguins 

Why: Pittsburgh is still within catching distance for the Blue Jackets, and what Blue Jackets fan doesn't enjoy watching Columbus' biggest rival lose? 

Who's chasing whom: Columbus is five points behind the Penguins, who are third in the Metro standings. The Blue Jackets also have a game in hand on the Pens, and the tiebreaker.  

When: 8 p.m. ET 

Who to cheer for: Chicago Blackhawks over Philadelphia Flyers 

Why: It would take a lot for the Flyers to catch Columbus now - the Jackets essentially have a three-game lead with nine to play - but the fewer teams on the Jackets' tail, the better. 

Who's chasing whom: Columbus has a six-point advantage on Philadelphia with both teams having nine games to play. 

When: 8:30 p.m. ET 

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