Get ready, Columbus. Hockey's best time of the year will be coming back to the capital city.
By virtue of their shootout win Friday night against the New York Rangers, the Blue Jackets have clinched a third consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.
"I'm proud of them, not just tonight in finding a way to win in a crazy game, but just how they've handled themselves throughout the year here," head coach John Tortorella said. "We're going to have fun here. … We've been through a lot together as a team, and playoffs is the greatest time of the year and you better enjoy it. We're going to try."
Though the team's opponent still remains to be seen -- currently, as the second wild card, the Blue Jackets are matched with Presidents' Trophy winner Tampa Bay, though Metropolitan Division champion Washington remains a possibility depending on Saturday night's play -- that's a story for another day. For now, the Jackets have won six of seven games to assure postseason hockey will be back in Nationwide Arena.
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"However it goes down, we feel confident we can play with anyone as long as we're playing our game," captain Nick Foligno said. "It's going to be a battle to get to our game before the other team. We're really excited about the opportunity though."
Video: Foligno on clinching a Playoff spot
Columbus returns to the postseason for the third straight year, a franchise record. The Blue Jackets have made four previous all-time playoff appearances, qualifying for the postseason in 2008-09, 2013-14, 2016-17 and 2017-18.
The Blue Jackets, who made a push for the playoffs by acquiring four veterans at the trade deadline including high-scoring Ottawa forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, will be looking for the franchise's first playoff series victory.
"It's been an absolute mental grind for three weeks, and it's really special to finally be done with that," Duchene said. "Now we rest and we get ready for the next mental grind, because hopefully we have a lot of games left that we're going to be grinding through mentally. When I say mental grind, now it's a good thing because it's where we want to be. It should be exciting and fun every single day. I can't wait to get to game one."
Last year, Columbus pushed the eventual Cup champion Capitals to the brink in a 4-2, opening-round series that included a pair of overtime losses for the Blue Jackets.
"I thought we had a good team last year," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said at the deadline. "I think we have a better team this year. We're very balanced with four lines. We're deep in every position. We have enogh skill, we have enough scoring. I think we have a lot of the ingredients you need to compete, but there's also a lot of great competition in the East. You all know how tough it is."
With tonight's win, Columbus is a point behind Carolina for the first wild card, and the Blue Jackets own the tiebreaker. Should Columbus catch the Canes on Saturday night -- the Jackets play at Ottawa, while Carolina visits Philadelphia -- the Jackets would get Washington, while Carolina would play Tampa Bay.
The full playoff schedule will be released Sunday morning.