The Columbus Blue Jackets clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-2 shootout win against the New York Rangers on Friday.
It's the third straight season the Blue Jackets (46-31-4) have qualified for the postseason, although they have never won a playoff series. Columbus lost to the Washington Capitals in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round last season.
Columbus was one of the most active teams at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, acquiring forwards Matt Duchene (12 points; four goals, eight assists in 22 games) and Ryan Dzingel (12 points; four goals, eight assists in 20 games) from the Ottawa Senators, defenseman Adam McQuaid from the New York Rangers and goalie Keith Kinkaid from the New Jersey Devils. The Blue Jackets also opted not to trade goalie Sergei Bobrovsky or forward Artemi Panarin, although each can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The Blue Jackets are 6-1-0 in their past seven games and have surged from outside the playoffs to the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.
"Life pretty much forced us to be at our best because if you're not there, you're not going to make the playoffs," Bobrovsky said. "That's the circumstances with this schedule, this season with us and we have to answer that the right way."
Here are five reasons why the Blue Jackets clinched a playoff berth:
1. What about Bob?
Bobrovsky didn't have a great start to the season, going 2-5-0 with a 3.58 goals-against average and .882 save percentage in October, but he's more than made up for it since.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner is 18-8-0 with a 2.01 GAA, .930 save percentage and seven of his NHL-leading nine shutouts since the start of February. He was named the NHL's First Star of the Week for the week ending March 31, and the Second Star for the month of March.
Video: CBJ@NYR: Bobrovsky denies Kreider at doorstep
"I just enjoy it right now," Bobrovsky 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. ... I'm not going to lie; it's nice [to get shutouts], but it's most important the team success, how the team plays in front of me… That's the biggest thing for me."
2. Bread winner
If Panarin has been distracted by the talk of where he will end up next season, it hasn't shown in his play.
Panarin leads the Blue Jackets with an NHL career-high, and franchise-record, 85 points (28 goals, 57 assists) and has been their top offensive player all season. He has 28 goals, including eight game-winners. Four of those have come in overtime, tying him for the NHL lead with Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings.
Video: CBJ@NYR: Panarin whips home shootout goal
"He has been from Day One just a great pro," coach John Tortorella said. "One of the hardest-working guys on our team. One of the hardest guys I think in the National Hockey League on pucks in one-on-one battles, which surprised me seeing him every day. Forget about all the skill and stuff like that. He has been all the other things. I do think he is easily top three, four, five in the National Hockey League as a player."
3. Scoring depth
It hasn't just been Panarin and Cam Atkinson (41 goals) carrying the offense. The Blue Jackets have nine players with at least 30 points and five 20-goal scorers (Atkinson, Panarin, Josh Anderson, 27; Pierre-Luc Dubois, 25; Oliver Bjorkstrand, 22). In addition, Duchene (31) and Dzingel (26) each has more than 20 this season between the Blue Jackets and Senators.
Tortorella's ability to get production from all four lines and not rely on one or two for offense is a big reason for the late-season surge.
"Each line is doing something to help us win," Bjorkstrand said. "We can roll the lines. Guys are more fresh when they get out there and it's a positive thing."
Video: BOS@CBJ: Bjorkstrand stretches goal streak to six
4. Staying out of the box
Columbus has done an excellent job of remaining disciplined all season. The Blue Jackets have the second-fewest penalty minutes in the NHL (512) and penalty minutes per game (6:19), behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs (501 PIM, 6:11 per game). Columbus has been shorthanded an NHL-low 200 times, and the penalty kill has allowed a League-low 30 goals and is second at 85.0 percent, just behind the Arizona Coyotes (85.3 percent). Discipline and penalty-killing have helped the Blue Jackets get back to the playoffs.
5. Staying healthy
One season after the Blue Jackets were ravaged by injuries and had more than 220 man-games lost to injury, they have remained remarkably healthy. Columbus has 86 man-games lost to injury this season; the only players on the injured list are defensemen Ryan Murray and McQuaid; each is out with an upper-body injury.