Don’t tell the Blue Jackets that their playoff hopes are slim.
A team that’s become accustomed to second-half surges is looking to assemble another white-hot stretch run, and it’s going to take something special to make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second year in a row. But right now, it’s one game at a time (hello, cliche machine) and the next game on the agenda is tonight at the Bell Centre against the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference.
The Blue Jackets have knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins this week and begin a back-to-back set tonight in Montreal. They’ll move on to New York City to play the Rangers tomorrow night, but first, they’re on the hunt for two big points against a team that stole a win at Nationwide Arena a month ago.
Down 2-0 midway through the third period, the Canadiens scored three goals in less than four minutes to win in regulation, an absolute stunner for the Blue Jackets. It was a tough one to take for Columbus, who endured a rough January after an electric run through December and is now trying to make up for lost time in February.
“You gotta have hope and you have to believe, and I think the guys in there believe,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said today. “We have, obviously, a long ways to go, but all we can worry or be concerned about is what we’re doing. Our last three periods were really good in Pittsburgh and that’s something to build off of, and this will be a great test.
“That’s what I want to see from our group; coming off a big win for our team and how we played the game, can we do it again?”
TOP LINE WENNBERG
Blue Jackets rookie Alexander Wennberg has played a variety of roles for his injury-stricken team this season, but one guy he hadn’t played with — until Thursday — was Ryan Johansen. Wennberg was moved up to play with Johansen and Scott Hartnell, and he wasted no time getting accustomed to his new line mates.
Wennberg set up Hartnell for the opening goal late in the first period and played a solid all-around game. He will get another opportunity on the No. 1 unit tonight in Montreal in front of one of the best environments in hockey.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about this arena and how the crowd is crazy, so I’m really looking forward to this game,” Wennberg said. “Joey’s obviously one of the most skilled guys in the league, so playing with him, you try to find the open spots. He can give you the puck and he can make plays. I’m just trying to keep up with his tempo. It’s a fun line to play with and I’m trying to make the best of it.”
The other Blue Jackets lines for tonight: Calvert-Dubinsky-Atkinson, Dano-Anisimov-Foligno (expect Foligno to take the face-offs), Tropp-Letestu-Boll.
And the defense pairs: Connauton-Wisniewski, Tyutin-Goloubef, Johnson-Savard.
DUBI DUBI DOMINANT
When Richards reunited the Calvert-Dubinsky-Atkinson line, the hope was that the speed of the two wings coupled with Dubinsky’s strong play of late would lead to good things. So far, so good, and the results have been a couple of big wins in which that line has played a significant role.
Calvert and Dubinsky teamed up for the game-winner in Pittsburgh late in the third period, but the line was also at the forefront of Tuesday’s third-period eruption in Philadelphia. Calvert scored the go-ahead goal off a great steal by Dubinsky and pass from Atkinson, and Dubinsky slammed home the insurance goal later in the period.
The Blue Jackets are starting to see glimpses of how good that line was last year, and Dubinsky’s play has been a major factor. He’s scored goals in four straight games (4-2-6 in that span) and has led the charge on many nights here lately.
“He’s starting to get his legs and feel more comfortable and stronger,” Richards said of Dubinsky. “His wings are helping out because they’re playing with some speed, but what I’m seeing from him now is down low; he’s got the puck more on his stick, he’s able to hold off checks and play big and strong like we’ve seen in the past.”