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Inside the month that put the Blue Jackets back on track

Columbus has points in 14 of 15 games to jump into the playoff race

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

When the Blue Jackets woke up on a picture-perfect Florida morning mere steps from the Atlantic Ocean on Dec. 8, their disposition was far from the sunny skies that greeted them.  

After the team's loss the night before against the Panthers, Columbus was 11-14-14, 11 points adrift from a playoff spot and fading with losses in four straight games.  

It was put up or shut up time, and Columbus was going to have to string together results to get back in the playoff race.  

"You know that you have to get wins in a row," center Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "You have to win four or five, lose one, then win five or six. You can't be a 50-50 team."  

Waking up today on Jan. 8 on the clear opposite side of the country, the Blue Jackets are feeling the exact opposite way. Columbus has points in 14 of 15 games since that loss to Florida, going 10-1-4 to earn 24 of a possible 30 points and moving into a deadlock with Philadelphia for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.  

"Playoffs are within reach here," forward Nathan Gerbe said. "It's exciting. It's fun. There's a ton of games, but if you stay in the moment, take each game at a time and get two points out of every game, that's all you can do." 

It's a month that has saved the season for the Blue Jackets. Here's how it happened.  

Biggest win: There are certainly some candidates. The month started right with a 5-2 win against an NHL-leading Washington club, and the Blue Jackets went on to earn five of a possible six points in three games vs. the Caps. There was also a 2-1 overtime win Jan. 2 in Boston that might have been the best team game the Blue Jackets played all season.  

But my pick for the biggest win, as in one that really cemented this team as being on the right track, came Dec. 23 on Long Island. Columbus had strung together some wins against below .500 teams before that game against the Islanders, but the team had struggled of late against New York on the road, including two straight road shutouts. Instead, the Blue Jackets got goals from Nathan Gerbe, Kevin Stenlund and Vladislav Gavrikov to earn the win. That's not a trio that was going to be counted on for scoring when the season began, and that's just the kind of everyone-doing-their-part month it's been for the CBJ.   

Video: Gavrikov extends Columbus win streak with late goal

Hottest player: No one, of course, is hotter in the NHL right now than Zach Werenski, who bagged two more goals on Tuesday night in Anaheim to give him seven in a five-game span -- including a trio of multigoal games. It's a historic level of hot, too, as Werenski was named the NHL's third star of the week after five goals in a three-game span as the New Year arrived, making him just the third defenseman to tally five times in three games in the past decade. He also is just the third defensemen in the expansion era to have three multigoal games in a five-game span, joining Hall of Famers Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr. That's an impressive list.

Video: CBJ@ANA: Werenski snaps one-timer past Miller for PPG

Werenski now leads NHL defensemen with 15 goals, and it's no wonder teammates have been trying to borrow heat from his new Warrior sticks.   

Best moment: Not many people will forget being in Nationwide Arena on New Year's Eve, as it was one of those rare regular season games that feels like something more. From Werenski's hat trick against former stallmate Sergei Bobrovsky and the Panthers to Elvis Merzlikins' joyous celebration, that win will live on. 

Video: FLA@CBJ: Werenski earns first career NHL hat trick

Off the ice, though, we'd have to go with the team's Kids Coach from Saturday's Kids Takeover game. If you haven't seen the video of Austin interacting with the Blue Jackets players and coaches, watch it right now.   

Video: Kids Takeover Honorary Coach, Austin

Key stats: 

  • The Blue Jackets have outscored teams by more than one goal per game in the run, with a 46-30 edge in tallies. 
  • Two players who have been a bit unsung through the whole thing are Dubois and Gustav Nyquist. Dubois has a point-per-game in the last 15 games with four goals and 11 assists, while Nyquist has a 3-10-13 line. 
  • Goaltending has gone from an unknown at the start of the season to a strength, with Joonas Korpisalo and Merzlikins combining to post a save percentage of .938 in the last 15 games. 
  • The Blue Jackets haven't let adversity faze them -- Columbus has won six games during the stretch when giving up the first goal. 

On the spot: So where does the run go from here? While Columbus has begun a West Coast swing with two wins in as many games, the Blue Jackets have now had three games in a row with stretches of unsteady play. Reintegrating veterans into the lineup will be key, and that's been a mixed bag so far as Sonny Milano, Emil Bemstrom and Markus Nutivaara have returned to action. 

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