Almost nine years after they played their first NHL game, the Columbus Blue Jackets
are about to get their first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Rick Nash erased a 3-2 deficit by scoring his 39th goal with 5:30 left in regulation, and defenseman Fedor Tyutin scored the lone tally in the shootout as the Blue Jackets clinched their first-ever berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-3 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Wednesday night.
Columbus, which entered the NHL in 2000-01, was the only active team that had not qualified for the postseason. The Jackets needed one point to assure themselves of the playoff berth.
"To get that one point was huge, to come back after being down 2-0," Nash said. "To get the win was even more important. We're going to try to win these last two games to keep our position in the standings. I don't know if it's quite sunk in yet. We're so used to playing out the season."
Clinching a playoff spot was special on many levels for the Blue Jackets. John H. McConnell, the team's founder and majority owner, died in April 2008 at age 84.
"It's great," Nash said. "We did it for ourselves, but most of all we did it for Mr. Mac. We know he's up there watching. I'm sure he's sitting in his chair and has a cigar in his mouth."
The Blackhawks still need one point to clinch fourth place in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago will make its first postseason appearance since 2002 and only its second in 11 seasons.
"Fourth place was the motivation," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We'll see what happens. We just finished a busy stretch of nine (games) in 15 nights and we did some good things over that stretch. We've got a couple of days to reflect and be excited come Saturday.
Chicago failed to come away with a second point in the standings despite jumping out to an early 2-0 lead. After Nash was denied on a penalty shot by Nikolai Khabibulin 8:59 into the game, Brent Seabrook broke a scoreless tie with a power-play goal at 13:48. The Blackhawks' defenseman took a pass from Brian Campbell and beat rookie Steve Mason on a breakaway for his eighth goal of the season.
Dave Bolland put the Blackhawks up by a pair with 21 seconds left in the first when his centering pass drifted behind Mason and into the slot -- and was knocked into the net by a sliding Nash as the Blue Jackets' captain tried to catch up with the play.
But Columbus came back with two quick tallies in the second period. Antoine Vermette cut the deficit in half when he stuffed a rebound past Khabibulin at 5:37, and Jason Williams tied it 2:23 later as he finished a two-on-none with Vermette. It was his 19th goal of the season.
"I'm proud of the guys," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I wasn't happy about the first period. I thought we were light on the puck. In the second and third period we came back and managed the play."
Martin Havlat restored Chicago's lead with his 28th tally at 17:43. The score remained 3-2 until Nash slipped in alone from the left side and beat Khabibulin with a backhander with 5:30 remaining in regulation. The Blue Jackets survived overtime despite being outshot 5-0 and having to kill a late penalty.
"It was pretty important for them," Quenneville said. "We would have liked to have gotten two points, which was our motivation and our goal. We left an important, valuable point on the table. We haven't accomplished anything yet."
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.