It's appropriate that the Blue Jackets resume their playoff push with a Metropolitan Division game on Thursday night. The New Jersey Devils, a team that had made up some ground in the standings and was playing well entering the break, are very much in the conversation and they have one final chance to beat Columbus this season.
The first game post-Olympics is a divisional game, but how about this: in a weird scheduling quirk, the Blue Jackets won't play another Metro opponent until Mar. 18 when they face the Carolina Hurricanes at Nationwide Arena. After that game, Columbus plays four of its next six against division opponents and, as we know, it's a gigantic opportunity to both gain ground on and leap frog teams they're chasing.
How does the schedule break down for the Blue Jackets and the Metro? Let's examine.
NEW YORK RANGERS
32-24-3, 67 PTS.
REMAINING VS. CBJ: 3/21
The Rangers and Blue Jackets were a natural rivalry: the trades between the two teams, the seemingly-endless story lines between them...you name it. On the ice, it has not disappointed and all three games in the season series have been close games. New York won in regulation at Nationwide Arena back in November, while the Blue Jackets have won both games at Madison Square Garden (once in a shootout, once in regulation). The final meeting of the season is sure to have postseason implications, and with the Rangers having played one more game than Columbus, the Blue Jackets will have a chance to cut into the four points that currently separate them from New York.
30-23-6, 66 PTS.
REMAINING VS. CBJ: 4/3
Speaking of rivalries and spirited games...the Blue Jackets and Flyers have made it pretty clear (through actions) that they aren't fond of each other. Philadelphia authored one of the season's greatest comebacks a couple months back, rallying from a 3-0 third-period deficit to beat Columbus in regulation at Wells Fargo Center. The Blue Jackets exacted some revenge with a pair of convincing home ice wins over the Flyers, who are three points ahead of them for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
26-22-9, 61 PTS.
REMAINING VS. CBJ: 3/18, 3/29
The Hurricanes are one of two Metro teams (Pittsburgh being the other) that the Blue Jackets will play five time this season. So far, it's been an interesting season series and the Hurricanes used a come-from-behind win on Jan. 27 in Raleigh - with three third-period goals to come from a 2-0 deficit - to stun the Jackets and climb back within striking distance in the playoff race. Still on the schedule are two games, one in Columbus and one in Raleigh, that will go a long way toward deciding the final order in the division.
27-23-9, 63 PTS.
REMAINING VS. CBJ: NONE
What an entertaining season series it was between the Blue Jackets and Capitals. Washington drew first blood with a win in D.C. back in October and followed it up with an overtime win on home ice a month later. The Blue Jackets held serve at Nationwide Arena, winning a pair of lopsided decisions over a Capitals team that has struggled to find consistency this season. Tied in points with Columbus, the Capitals are a team to watch down the stretch - especially if they can get quality goaltending.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
24-22-13, 61 PTS.
REMAINING VS. CBJ: 2/27
Some of the weirdest divisional games the Blue Jackets have played this year have come against the Devils; a 5-4 late win by Columbus in December seemed to get them going at a time when goal-scoring had been hard to come by, and a shootout win in New Jersey immediately following the Christmas break kept them on a roll entering 2014. Columbus is 3-0-0 this season against the Devils but the fourth and final meeting between them is a big one, and it just so happens to be the first game out of the break (you already knew this) on Thursday at the Prudential Center.