Feel free to admit it - you were probably terrified going into Sunday night's Blue Jackets game, right?
It felt like the ultimate trap game. Columbus entered riding a four-game win streak, but the team had to fly from Nashville to Buffalo on a short turnaround. With the Sabres coming off a rough loss on Long Island the night before, you had to figure a young Buffalo team would want to come back firing on its home ice.
"Some of the most dangerous games," head coach John Tortorella said beforehand.
In the end, though, there was no trap door for the Jackets to fall through. Columbus opened a 3-0 lead in the first, made it 4-0 in the second and shut 'er down from there, completing the 4-0 shutout victory.
Video: Torts talks about a full team contribution
It was a huge win, too, in the standings. Columbus moved past Carolina, which lost at Pittsburgh, by a point to claim the first wild card spot in the standings with three games to go. In addition, the Jackets are now two points ahead of Montreal, which is in ninth, and owns the tiebreaker, which means two wins in the final three games will clinch a playoff spot no matter what the Habs do. And in fact, a Jackets win Tuesday vs. Boston coupled with a Canadiens loss at Tampa Bay would clinch a third straight playoff bid for the CBJ.
Here are three observations from the Jackets' victory over the Sabres.
1. Taking care of business: The fears about the start seemed warranted when the Sabres had a 7-1 edge in shots in the early going, but from there, the Blue Jackets rumbled to life. It all started with a strong shift by the Boone Jenner-Alexander Wennberg-Oliver Bjorkstrand line, which spent a significant amount of time in the offensive zone before drawing a faceoff to the right of goalie Linus Ullmark.
After a TV timeout, Columbus won the draw and promptly scored. In his latest strong outing, Zach Werenski carted the puck behind the net and passed it out to Seth Jones at the right point. Jones fired a one-timer that glanced off the skate of Pierre-Luc Dubois and went into the net, giving the Jackets the lead just over seven minutes in.
From there, it was pretty much academic. Oliver Bjorkstrand scored on the power play a few minutes later and Nick Foligno tallied on a wraparound after an abjectly awful Buffalo turnover, and it was 3-0 going into the break with the boo birds chasing the Sabres down the tunnel at the end of the period.
About that talk about a trap game…
"We know what's at stake for us with playoff positioning and even making the playoffs," Werenski said afterward. "It's a huge two points for us. I don't think we're going to take any games as trap games from here on out. We want to win every game for the rest of the season."
To Tortorella, he liked the team's consistent effort all the way through, even if it wasn't the Jackets' cleanest game of what is now a five-game win streak in which the team is outscoring foes 24-4.
"It's a team that is not qualifying (for the playoffs), and they know that," Tortorella said of the Sabres. "They have some kids in their lineup also, We just focused on trying to stay consistent with our effort, our play away from the puck. The biggest key for us is just our forecheck. I thought we did a pretty good job of that for a lot of minutes."
2. A Bjork-strand of goals: Bjorkstrand probably isn't going to score in every game for the rest of the season … but then again, he might the way things are going right now.
The Maestro's scoring streak reached five games with his 21st tally of the season, and his numbers of late are pretty absurd. Bjorkstrand has six goals in that five-game span and seven goals in the last seven games overall as he's become the seventh Blue Jacket with at least 20 goals on the season.
Video: CBJ@BUF: Bjorkstrand blisters slap shot past Ullmark
This goal was simply a snipe, which shouldn't be a surprise given how good Bjorkstrand's shot is. Dubois found him alone in the high slot on the power play, and Bjorkstrand loaded and just blew it by Ullmark's glove.
"I feel good," he said. "I'm just trying to keep it going, trying to do the right things, and with that I get good bounces and guys around me are making good plays."
It is true that Bjorkstrand seems to be getting good bounces, but good players make their own luck, right? Yes, the puck is following him around a bit of late, but he's also putting himself in good spots and most importantly battling to reclaim the puck when it's not on his stick.
Tortorella said that's the difference between the current Bjorkstrand and the one he benched occasionally in the early going of the season.
"All I know is I'm glad he's scoring, but this all started two, two-and-a-half months ago as far as his work habits," the head coach said. "He's so much stronger on the puck. I think he's willing to be in the battles. I just think his work habits are more consistent, and the puck follows him. He's just a dangerous shooter -- we know that -- but he's done the other things to get more opportunity."
3. Hot-rovsky: The old joke goes that cops love donuts, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the No. 1 cop on the force is piling up the donuts of late.
OK, that was a convoluted way to introduce the fact Bobrovsky has three shutouts in his last five starts, giving him nine on the year, the most in the NHL and one away from a franchise record for a season.
Even more impressively, after his uneven start to the season, Bobrovsky has been in a groove. He had three of his shutouts in February and four in March, meaning he's allowed zero goals in seven of his last 21 starts. Can we interest you in that, Blue Jackets fans?
As for leading the NHL in shutouts, Bobrovsky said, "It's nice to have it, obviously. I'm not going to lie. It's nice to have it, but the team success is most important."
Team success and Bobrovsky's success will go hand in hand from here on in, so the way the goalie has played down the stretch has to be encouraging. In his last 11 starts, Bobrovsky has nine wins and four shutouts, has allowed just 14 goals (a 1.27 goals-against average) and has a .957 save percentage.
"I just enjoy it right now," he said. "I'm enjoying this stretch, enjoying the games when it means something. It's so much fun to play, so I am just happy to be part of this team right now."