COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets were not in a Stanley Cup Playoff position until three acquisitions prior to the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26 changed that.
The Blue Jackets (45-30-7) went 14-4-2 after acquiring center Mark Letestu (Edmonton Oilers), forward Thomas Vanek (Vancouver Canucks) and defenseman Ian Cole (Ottawa Senators) to earn the first wild card from the Eastern Conference. They begin their first-round series against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVAS, FS-O, NBCSWA).
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"I knew we had a better team than what was going on," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. "We just had to find a way to get those pieces in the right spot. Once the trade deadline hit, it's almost like it allowed us to put those pieces in the right spot and we took off.
"Credit to management for seeing that. We knew we were missing some pieces or needed some things to happen for us to get going. The way these guys have come in and found their role and done it so well, it just gives everybody confidence."
The Blue Jackets averaged 2.50 goals-per game before the trades, and 3.95 goals-per game after.
Vanek, 34, acquired Feb. 26, had 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) and was plus-9 in 19 games. Letestu, 33, acquired Feb. 25, had four points (one goal, three assists) and won 52.9 percent of his face-offs in 20 games. Cole, 29, had seven points (two goals, five assists) and was plus-11 in 20 games, averaging 18:08 of ice time, nearly a minute above his career average of 17:19.
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"The three guys we brought in have been seamless as far as being in the room before they even step on the ice, and have contributed tremendously on the ice," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said.
Their experience should help Columbus, which has never won a playoff series. Cole has played in 56 playoff games, including winning the Stanley Cup the past two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Vanek has played in 63 postseason games, and Letestu has played in 30.
"Every play you make has so much more weight to it," Cole said. "Every puck out of your zone, every puck into your zone, every battle along the wall, every box-out net front, just matters that much more.