- With a 5-12-3 record a little more than a month ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets' season was dead in the water.
Climbing back into contention seemed all but impossible. But on the back of hot goaltending and belief in the dressing room, the Blue Jackets come into Thursday's tilt vs. Edmonton sporting the West's best record (8-1-4) in the month of March.
A win tonight would vault them into a playoff spot.
"Even now, teams in last place have a chance to get in if they're hot," said Blue Jackets forward Mark Letestu. "We had a long stretch at home and we looked at that as our ‘last stand.' We had to make a push to get ourselves back in the picture."
As impressive as Columbus' resurgence has been, the club is still struggling to score. Vinny Prospal leads the Blue Jackets in scoring with only nine goals and 18 points.
"We're not a team built with prolific goal-scorers up and down the lineup," said Letestu, who sits second in team scoring with 16 points on the year. "We have to out-compete teams, turn it into a dirty game and score goals around the net. That's the way we need to win games and we've done well in finding that identity. We've been sticking to it recently and it's found us some success."
Letestu believes former GM Scott Howson's dismissal was the "unfortunate wake-up call" they needed. Howson is now working with the Oilers as a pro scout.
Sitting .500 (13-13-7) for the first time since their opening night win at Nashville, a lot (or most, rather) of Columbus' success can be attributed to Sergei Bobrovsky. The 24-year-old goaltender has a 2.06 goals-against average and .930 save percentage this season, and is 8-1-3 with three shutouts in his last 13 games.
While the Blue Jackets are coming off a shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks this past Tuesday, Bobrovsky earned his third shutout after holding fort in a scoreless game through regulation and overtime.
"He's been our MVP down the stretch," said Letestu. "He's played the best hockey of his career and you need that. Last year Phoenix got in on a hot goalie and we're hoping to ride him. We need some better efforts all around to help him out, but he's been critical in helping us get back into the playoff picture."
With an opportunity to have their turnaround come full circle Thursday night at Rexall Place, Letestu, an Elk Point, AB product, is excited about the challenge.
And there's little doubt the challenge will be immense. History shows the Oilers have dominated the Blue Jackets at home, posting a 17-4-1 vs. Columbus in the Alberta capital.
In head-to-head battle so far this season, both the Oilers and Blue Jackets have each won once at Nationwide Arena. The Oilers currently have an edge in the season series, however, capturing three of a possible four points.
Letestu scored the shootout-winner in their last meeting on Mar. 5.
"All year we've had a good base as far as our work ethic, our compete and applying our game plan was concerned," he said. "Other teams seemed to getting one more play and we were losing a lot of one-goal games. Bob's play as helped, but we're starting to get that bounce, that goal, and we're starting to manufacture one more play than the other team.
"I've got a lot of family and friends coming to the game tonight, too. It's going to be awesome."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick