The Columbus Blue Jackets did everything they could Saturday night to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It just wasn't enough
Jack Johnson scored the tie-breaking goal with 4:48 left, and the Blue Jackets ended their regular season by rallying to defeat the Nashville Predators 3-1 before a packed house at Nationwide Arena.
Columbus had to get at least one point to have any chance of finishing in the top eight in the Western Conference for the first time since 2008-09, the only other time the franchise has qualified for the playoffs since entering the NHL in 2000. The Blue Jackets got two, but their playoff hopes expired when the Minnesota Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-1, a game that finished shortly after the Detroit Red Wings blanked the Dallas Stars 3-0.
"It's a disappointing, sinking feeling right now," Columbus coach Todd Richards said.
The Wild and Blue Jackets each finished with 55 points, one behind the seventh-place Red Wings, but Minnesota won the tiebreaker for eighth because it had more non-shootout wins than Columbus (22-19).
"I'm extremely proud of the group," Richards said of a team that went 8-1-0 in its last nine games and from last in the overall standings on March 1 to within a tiebreaker of a playoff berth. "You get emotional because of the time you put in. Everyone put their heart in."
The Blue Jackets trailed 1-0 after two periods but came out storming Chris Mason's net in the third period, dominating play for shifts at a time. Columbus finally tied it when Vinny Prospal fed a pass to Marian Gaborik, who quickly got the puck to Dubinsky for a power-play backhander that beat Mason at 10:09. At that point, the Blue Jackets had outshot the Predators 15-0 in the third period.
Johnson, whose turnover led to Nashville's goal, put Columbus ahead when he came out of the corner to Mason's left and bounced the puck off the goaltender's leg into the net.
"We knew we were going to win," Johnson said. "There was no doubt in our minds."
Cam Atkinson added an empty-net goal with 29.4 seconds remaining on the Blue Jackets' 25th shot of the period.
Mason finished with 44 saves. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 19 of 20 shots in front of 19,002 fans.
Columbus, at one point 5-12-4, finished the season on a 19-5-3 run.
"We're changing the culture here quickly," said Johnson, who joined the Blue Jackets from the Los Angeles Kings in February 2012. "It has been a blast. These are games we want to play in -- it's meaningful and exciting."
Dubinsky, part of the haul the Blue Jackets received in the trade that sent forward Rick Nash to the New York Rangers last summer, is already looking forward to next season.
"I'm really proud to be a member of the Blue Jackets. I'm really proud of these guys," Dubinsky said. "I think we grew together as a group. Everybody played for each other every night."
The Predators finished a disappointing season by losing 10 of their last 11 games and missed the playoffs for the second time in nine seasons.
"They never give up and they scrap and claw," Mason said of the Blue Jackets. "That's what they've been doing all year."
Weber broke a scoreless tie 8:29 into the second period when the Predators capitalized on a turnover by Johnson. Nashville's captain finished off a give-and-go with David Legwand by snapping a shot from just above the right faceoff dot that beat Bobrovsky high to the short side for his ninth goal of the season.
The scoreless first period saw the Blue Jackets outshoot the Predators 14-9. Nashville had the better of play in the early going and put the puck past Bobrovsky at 8:00, but the goal was quickly waved off because the officials ruled that Craig Smith kicked the puck into the net.
Mason stopped Gaborik twice after he had gotten past the defense and the goalie made his best save of the period with less than two minutes remaining when he denied Nick Foligno on a 2-on-1 break.
Dubinsky had the Blue Jackets' best chance in the second period, but Mason stopped him from just to the right of the crease after Dubinsky had slipped behind the defense. Mason got his left pad down in the first few seconds of the third period to stop Atkinson's stuff try on a breakaway.
Richards, like his players, said the playoff chase will be important to the growth of the franchise.
"We started something," he said. "We have to learn from this."
Material from team media was used in this report