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Postgame Hat Trick: Jackets finish strong in Ottawa

Dubois' two goals highlight regular-season finale

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Now, the fun part begins. 

The greatest postseason in sports is upcoming, and the Columbus Blue Jackets will be a part of it. 

The Jackets are in for the third year in a row and will meet the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. That became cemented after Columbus' 6-2 win at Ottawa on Saturday night, a game that was concurrent with Carolina's win at Philadelphia that clinched the fact the Canes finished a point ahead of the CBJ in the standings. 

Video: Tortorella on the team's mentality

It's a crazy world where a team with 47 wins and 98 points will be the eight seed in the postseason, but that's how things broke down this season. The second-best campaign in terms of wins in Columbus history will be rewarded by having to face a team that tied the NHL record for victories this season.

So it goes, though, and that shouldn't take away what was a gritty performance all year by the Jackets and especially down the stretch as Columbus won seven of its last eight games to clinch the postseason bid.

Here are three observations from the Jackets' finale vs. the last-place Senators.

1. Dubois does it: Pierre-Luc Dubois is a tremendous building block for the Jackets going forward, and the 20-year-old center put a nice bow on what was an impressive sophomore season vs. the Sens.

Dubois scored twice to up his final season line to 27-34-61, and it was the 17th multi-point game of the year for him. It came after a stretch run that wasn't always the easiest, as he occasionally shuttled between lines and dealt with the longest scoring drought of his career even as he thought he was playing good enough hockey to at least be contributing on the score sheet.

Video: CBJ@OTT: Dubois chips in loose puck for second goal

"It's huge," he said. "Personally, I don't think my game has been where I want it to be, but building off these two games, I think our line did a good job of being on the forecheck and retrieving those pucks, and that's going to be huge in the postseason."

Dubois was switched back onto a line with Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson for the game after the trio played well together for the back half of the win over the Rangers on Friday. Head coach John Tortorella said he'll likely begin the playoffs with those three together, though of course nothing is set in stone.

Really, it's not a huge problem but perhaps a luxury to have. Tortorella has been able to switch Dubois with Matt Duchene as the centers of the top two lines at times to give teams a different look or simply just to shake things up if things aren't going the Jackets' way, and having options is good this time of year.

"For a guy that has struggled a little bit here late, hopefully that helps him," Tortorella said of Dubois' goals. "I thought that line played good. I don't want to get too deep into an evaluation in a game like this tonight, but I made the switch of the centers, him and Dutchy -- I'm not exactly sure what the lines are going to be still, but that line will probably start together."

2. A weird game: Columbus did take the ice on Saturday night with something to play for, as a win and a Carolina loss would have moved the Jackets up into the first wild card and allow them to avoid taking on the Tampa Bay juggernaut in the first round.

At the same time, the Jackets won a mentally and physically exhausting game on Friday night in New York that clinched a playoff bid, so mission No. 1 had been accomplished. 

With Ottawa hopelessly out of the playoff chase, Tortorella knew it was going to be a bit of an odd game just given the mind-set of the two teams, but he was happy his team opened an early 3-0 lead and then got the job done from there.

"I wasn't sure how we were going to be," he said. "You have an emotional letdown after what happened, the crazy game last night. Getting the lead helps. It is what it is. No penalties, you play the game, and I don't think we played badly, I don't think we played great. The game played out like I thought it would be."

The head coach added the best part was finishing without any injuries, and now things get real as the Jackets hit the postseason.

3. Playoff time: So now comes the season of endless overtime, shaggy beards and the most intense night-to-night action in sports.

There's no denying the Blue Jackets have a big hill to climb to take out the Lightning, but at the same time, the team enters the competition on the right foot. Columbus went 7-1-0 down the stretch and scored 34 goals in those last eight games.

Included in that was a six-goal outburst vs. the Senators on Saturday night, and there is some hope that finally clinching after what had been a pressure-packed final few weeks has lifted a burden on the team.  

"Yesterday took a heavy lift away from our shoulders," defenseman Markus Nutivaara said. "We had fun today, but still everybody was thinking about the playoffs. I think it was good."

Dubois said the team had some specific tasks it wanted to accomplish as far as playing away from the puck and thought the team did well in that regard, as that will be crucial when the team steps on the ice vs. the Lightning. 

It will be a challenge, of course, to take on a Tampa Bay team that won 62 games, but the head coach said he thinks his team is up to it.

"Damn right," Tortorella said.
 

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