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Metropolitan Division notebook

Blue Jackets hoping regular-season success leads to playoff run; Rangers thriving on road

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

There's an excitement building in central Ohio with the Columbus Blue Jackets closing in on clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in their history, first since 2013-14.

The Blue Jackets set their single-season record for wins (44) and points (94) with a 5-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday. That's a dramatic turnaround from last season, when they were 27th in the NHL (34-40-8, 76 points), and there's a feeling of anticipation about what could come next.

"It's such a good city to play in," said center Brandon Dubinsky, who scored the winning goal Monday. "We've got such great fans when we put a good product on the ice, and that's just the way it is. You've got to win in order to build a fan base that's going to consistently come every night to cheer you on. When things are going well, this is a great sports city and a lot of fun. When we made the playoffs [in 2014], the city was buzzing."

It has been a long road back to this point. After the Blue Jackets lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the 2014 Eastern Conference First Round, the expectation was they would be back the following season.

Video: CBJ@BUF: Foligno shows off hands, beats Nilsson

Instead, two seasons filled with injuries and disappointment followed.

"The year after, we had a lot of injuries and stuff, and last year, we just simply didn't play well enough," Dubinsky said. "I think we all underperformed, and we've all taken responsibility and ownership of it and I think have stepped up this year."

Individually, Dubinsky, 30, said he hasn't been as productive as he'd like (10 goals, 26 assists in 66 games), but he attributes that partly to a change in his role. He's being used more in defensive situations and is not playing as much on the power play.

He said that's not something that bothers him.

"You've got to have the right amount of selflessness," Dubinsky said. "To me, I know everyone says it, but it's really all about the team and winning. If you've got to sacrifice some individual successes in order for that to happen, I'm sure everybody would be willing to do that. So I'm just really happy with the way the season is going."

Although the Blue Jackets are comfortably in a playoff spot, they are not satisfied. They trail the Penguins and Washington Capitals by one point for first place in the League standings. Some teams don't pay a lot of attention to the Presidents' Trophy, but the Blue Jackets aren't afraid to say they want it.

"You play ultimately for the playoffs and the Stanley Cup, but the Presidents' Trophy is something you earn because the regular season is 82 games," Dubinsky said. "It's long, it's grueling, it's tough, and it's something we certainly want to go after. … It gives you the opportunity to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Having played in a number of Game 7s myself, I know how important that home ice can be, especially in those Game 7s. So it's something we're looking after."

 

Rangers follow road to success

The good news for the New York Rangers is they lead the League with 25 road wins after finishing a 3-1-0 trip with a 4-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings in their final regular-season visit to Joe Louis Arena on Sunday.

They are 25-9-0 away from Madison Square Garden, including 18-4-0 in their past 22 games. The 25 road wins are the second-most in Rangers history (28, 2014-15).

The bad news for the Rangers is they are 19-15-2 at home, including five consecutive losses (0-4-1) after a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.

Video: NYR@DET: McDonagh, Hayes score 37 seconds apart

At home, the Rangers power play has converted on 14.7 percent of its chances, compared to 22.5 percent on the road. Similarly, their penalty kill was at 77.2 percent at home compared to 83.8 percent on the road.

"Somehow we just play more of a simple game [on the road]," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. "We're able to come out and play better early in the first period and kind of play our game and go from there. We've had great goaltending on the road. We've had it at home most of the time too. It's hard to explain."

With goaltender Henrik Lundqvist out 2-3 weeks with a muscle strain in his hip, the Rangers' main concern over the next four weeks is to be healthy for the start of the playoffs. But if they can play better at home, they'd have a shot at first place in the League standings and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Rangers hold the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference and face the possibility of beginning the postseason on the road.

"We have so many wins on the road now it's crazy," Gorton said. "If I could put a finger on it, I just think we just more play our game. We never really get rattled. We stay into it. At home, sometimes on a bad power play, two bad power plays and momentum shifts the other way. It's tough. The crowd, they want to see you win and the snowball gets bigger, bigger and bigger."

 

Stat pack

Sebastian Aho, 19, is the third Carolina Hurricanes rookie to score 20 goals in a season, joining Jeff Skinner, who had 31 in 2010-11, and Shane Willis, who scored 20 in 2000-01. …With four shutouts, Penguins goaltender Matt Murray is two shy of their rookie record, set by Les Binkley in 1967-68, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored twice against Detroit for his second multigoal game in the NHL. He also scored twice against the New York Islanders on Feb. 16, 2015. … Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin hasn't scored a goal in an NHL career-high 10 consecutive games. He's gone 18 games in a row without an even-strength goal, also an NHL career high.

 

Games to watch

Minnesota Wild at Washington Capitals (March 14, 7 p.m. ET; SNP, CSN-DC, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV) -- The Capitals have 95 points and are tied with the Penguins for first place in the League standings. The Wild have 92 points to lead the Western Conference.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers (March 15, 7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) -- Trying to stay in the race for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, the Flyers play the first of two remaining games against their cross-state rivals. They also play in Pittsburgh on March 26.

Florida Panthers at Pittsburgh Penguins (March 19, 1 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, ROOT, FS-F, NHL.TV) -- Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr returns to Pittsburgh, where he began his NHL career in 1990-91.

New York Islanders at New York Rangers (March 22, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV) -- The fourth and final game between the New York rivals this season. The Islanders won each of the past two games.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals (March 23, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CSN-DC, FS-O, NHL.TV) -- If the Blue Jackets are going to catch the Capitals in the race for first place in the Eastern Conference and the League, they'll probably need to win this game. The teams play again in Columbus on April 2

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