BLUE JACKETS (45-30-4) vs. BRUINS (47-23-9)
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (NBC Sports Network, CBJ app, 97.1 The Fan)
NHL coaches spend day and night trying to think of ways to improve their team, but sometimes, a little happenstance can make all the difference.
For example, look at the Blue Jackets over the past four games. When captain Nick Foligno was set to return to the team for last Tuesday's game vs. the New York Islanders, John Tortorella had the dilemma of where to put him in the lineup.
He could reunite Foligno with Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson, a physical, identity-setting line he's used throughout the season. But the two had been playing on different lines, so making that move would have had a domino effect down the lineup.
Tortorella chose not to go that route, keeping together three lines he liked at the moment and putting Foligno on a new line with Brandon Dubinsky and Riley Nash.
It's proved to be a stroke of genius, but it took a little luck and circumstance to get there.
"You just never know," Tortorella said. "Why didn't I put Nash, Nick Foligno and Dubi together (previously)? You just never know when it all works. Sometimes you stumble on things."
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You also never know how lines will shake out during a game -- Tortorella is never afraid to shake things up if he sees a combination not getting the job done during a contest -- but for four games now, Columbus has found four lines that work.
Matt Duchene seems set on the first line with Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson, and the trio produced four goals in the win over Nashville on Saturday night. Last night, the grouping of Anderson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Ryan Dzingel combined for two tallies while Dubois added a third point on the power play. In terms of shot share and scoring chances, the best line of late has been Jenner with Alexander Wennberg and the red-hot Oliver Bjorkstrand.
And then there's Foligno, Nash and Dubinsky, a trio Tortorella likes for its ability to play the gritty style it seems the Jackets will need a dose of come playoff time -- or tonight against Boston as Columbus puts its five-game win streak on the line.
"The emergence of Nash, Dubi and Nick coming back into the lineup, me liking the other three lines when Nick was out and putting him there, we found a line," Tortorella said. "It has balanced out, and I think it's come at a very important time where we have played a lot of hockey and we're going to play a lot more here in the next week and a half.
"It's balanced us out and it allows us to play with energy."
Having four lines has allowed the Blue Jackets, as Tortorella said, to even out the playing time a bit. Every Blue Jackets forward played between 13:32 and 17:00 in the win against the Sabres, and Tortorella hasn't played a forward for more than 20 minutes in any of the four games since Foligno returned.
"I think any winning team has to have some sort of balance throughout their lineup," Dubois said. "Every line does some things differently. I don't even like to talk about putting numbers on the lines because you've seen recently how every line has been contributing. If you hope to win, you have to have balance throughout the lineup."
For the first time this year, Columbus could clinch a playoff berth Tuesday. With three games left for each team, Columbus holds the East's first wild card with 94 points, one ahead of Carolina and two ahead of Montreal. The Blue Jackets also have the tiebreaker on each.
In addition to the CBJ game with Boston, Carolina visits Toronto at the same time while Montreal hosts Tampa Bay, just the third team in NHL history to win 60 games in a season. With a Jackets win and Canadiens loss in regulation, Columbus will clinch a playoff berth.
Know the Foe
Boston has sewn up a playoff berth and is hoping to sew up home ice in its first-round series with Toronto in the Atlantic Division side of the Eastern Conference bracket. But the Bruins, who have a four-point edge on Toronto, have lost three of the last four including two straight to Florida and Detroit.
This will be the third meeting between the teams since March 12, with Columbus posting a 7-4 win at Nationwide Arena before returning to Boston two days later, where the Bruins posted a 2-1 overtime victory.
The Bruins have been one of the best defensive teams in the game all season with just 2.58 goals allowed per game, third in the NHL, but Boston has given up 17 goals over the last four games. Goaltender Tuukka Rask has faced the brunt of the struggles, going 2-4-0 in his last six starts since the first Columbus game with a .865 save percentage.
Still, this has been one of the more solid teams in the NHL all year, including the 19-game point streak that ended earlier this month that is one of the longest in league history and the second-longest ever for the Bruins.
Brad Marchand continues to lead the way with a 35-63-98 line, including three goals and two assists in two games this year vs. Columbus. He's fifth in the NHL in points this season and is coming off a March in which he had a 9-14-23 line in 15 games. Patrice Bergeron has 32-46-78 line this year, while David Pastrnak -- who missed the first two CBJ games with injury -- has 36-41-77 including a recent four-game stretch in which he had 5-6-11. Defenseman Torey Krug's 45 assists are sixth among blueliners in the game.
There are some notable injuries on the squad. Dublin native Sean Kuraly is out with a hand injury while former Blue Jackets defenseman John Moore has an upper-body injury.
3 Keys to the Game
Stay out of the box: Boston's power play, led by Krug, checks in at 26.4 percent, third in the league. Avoiding penalties has been a strength, as Columbus has had to kill just 93 penalties over the last 41 games, just over two per game.
Win the Brad/Berge battle: Not only has Marchand put up points against the Jackets, his linemate Bergeron has a 2-2-4 line against Columbus. Adding in Pastrnak makes the line even more formidable, but the Jackets have been playing solid defense and will likely match Seth Jones and Zach Werenski against the Bruins' top line.
Engage the crowd: It's the last regular season game at Nationwide Arena, where Columbus has won five straight. There should be a fired-up crowd at the downtown arena, so a quick start would be huge.
Sergei Bobrovsky is the NHL's reigning first star of the week. ... The next Blue Jackets goal will be the 247th of the season, tying a franchise record. … The Jackets have scored four or more goals in 37 of their 79 contests. … Columbus has outscored foes 24-4 in its last five games. … 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. … With 45 wins, Columbus has tied the second most victories in franchise history. The Jackets also had 45 wins last year after capturing 50 games two seasons ago.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Josh Anderson
Boone Jenner - Alexander Wennberg - 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, Adam McQuaid, Adam Clendening, Andrew Peeke, Keith Kinakid, Elvis Merzlikins
Roster Report: Columbus' newly signed defenseman Peeke practiced with the team Tuesday but Merzlikins, who arrived over the weekend, did not. Tortorella had no injury updates on defensemen Ryan Murray and McQuaid.