Despite grabbing five of eight points in a four-game tilt with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Columbus Blue Jackets continue to lose ground in the standings. After winning the first two games against the Hurricanes, Columbus found themselves in the fourth and final playoff spot in the Discover Central Division over the Chicago Blackhawks. However, after dropping the next two, they are now three points behind the Blackhawks.
In this piece, we will summarize the series with Carolina and explore the series’ takeaways and what they mean for the Blue Jackets.
Four Game Summary
In the extended series against Carolina, Columbus went 2-1-1 and grabbed five of eight available points. Below is a summary of the team’s series against the Hurricanes.
The first game started well for the Blue Jackets when defenseman Seth Jones scored his second goal of the season at the 14:11 mark of the first period. The goal was assisted by Oliver Bjorkstrand and Zach Werenski and gave Columbus a 1-0 lead that they took with them to the first intermission.
In the second period, the lead quickly evaporated as Sebastian Aho came alive for Carolina, scoring goals at the 0:51 mark of the second period and on the power play at the 12:20 in the second period. That gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead over the Blue Jackets.
Columbus answered when Kevin Stenlund beat Carolina goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic on a one-timer from the circle on a great pass from Max Domi across the slot as a Blue Jackets power play expired.
No goals were scored in the third period, sending the game to overtime. The game ended with 51 seconds left in OT when Seth Jones scored his second goal of the game, high glove side on Nedeljkovic, collecting the extra point for the Blue Jackets.
After a scoreless first period, scoring in the second game opened when Andrei Svechnikov beat Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins to give Carolina a 1-0 lead. Brett Pesce and Jesper Fast drew the assists. That was the lone goal of the second period.
Columbus tied the game at one, just 38 seconds into the third period on Bjorkstrand’s 11th goal (assisted by Stenlund) of the season.
The Hurricanes regained the lead later in the third period on a goal from Ryan Foegele. When it seemed Carolina would win the game, Seth Jones scored his third goal in two games, with Merzlikins pulled from the goal, with 29 seconds remaining.
The game ended in a shootout. Carolina took the lead when Dougie Hamilton beat Merzlikins. After that, Merzlikins stopped two in a row, allowing Patrik Laine to score and extend the shootout to overtime. Merzlikins was then able to stop Nino Niederreiter to set up the game-winning attempt for Bjorkstrand, who beat Nedeljkovic to grab two points for the Blue Jackets, putting them in a playoff spot.
Game 3 of the series was much different. Unlike the first two games, which were back and forth, this game was a blowout. It marked a terrible effort and game for the Blue Jackets.
Carolina was able to score three goals on Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. The first was scored by Brady Skjei, the second by Fast, and the third by Martin Necas.
The Blue Jackets were unable to find the back of the net and solve the Nedeljkovic puzzle. The Carolina goaltender recorded the shutout as the Hurricanes outshot Columbus 28-19 and dominated the game.
The fourth and final game of the series was more like the first two games. The Blue Jackets jumped out to a first-period lead on a Werenski goal, assisted by Stenlund and Jones. However, the Hurricanes took the lead into the first intermission, 2-1, with goals from Cedric Paquette and Necas.
The Blue Jackets answered in the second period when Cam Atkinson scored his 12th goal of the season on a Columbus power play, knotting the game at two. Niederreiter was able to restore the Hurricanes’ one-goal lead later in the third, beating Korpisalo with just over four minutes left in the game.
Much like the second game, it seemed Carolina would win this one in regulation, but once again, Columbus scored after pulling their goaltender. This time Bjorkstrand was able to score with just 15.1 seconds left, sending the game to overtime.
The game ended 1:26 into OT. The Blue Jackets’ Jack Roslovic had a pass picked off, giving Necas a breakaway on Korpisalo who made the original stop, but was unable to hold the puck. He left a rebound that was picked up by Aho who put it into a wide-open net, giving the Hurricanes a 4-3 victory.
The Takeaways for the Blue Jackets
There are a lot of takeaways from the Blue Jackets’ series with Carolina. Below we will explore three of those takeaways and what they mean for Columbus.
The Defense Is Improving
In the first three games against the Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets struggled on defense. Columbus’ blue line gave up 15 goals in those matchups for a goals-against average (GAA) of five. In this four-game series, they gave up 11 goals in four games with a GAA of 2.75.
Another sign of improvement was the increased level of play of the Blue Jackets’ top defensive pairing, Jones and Werenski. Jones and Werenski combined for seven points in the series, by far their best stretch of hockey this season.
Defensive play will be key for the Blue Jackets down the stretch if they hope to catch the Blackhawks, and that starts with the play of Jones and Werenski. The good news for the Blue Jackets is that they are showing signs of heating up.
The Blue Jackets Show Improvement in OT and the Shootout
Before the series against Carolina, the Blue Jackets struggled after regulation, going 2-7 on the season in those games. In just four games, Columbus doubled their overtime and shootout wins, going 2-1 after regulation against the Hurricanes.
Winning games after regulation will be key for the Blue Jackets to finish the season. Proof that the extra points are crucial is right in front of our eyes. Columbus has left eight points on the ice after regulation, and they are down just three points on Chicago for the final playoff spot. If they won more of their games that went past regulation, they would be ahead.
Columbus Has Work to Do
As of this morning, the Blue Jackets have a 4.4 percent chance to make the postseason. Despite the low chances, the team can still make it. They took the last spot from Chicago last Saturday after the shootout win over Carolina.
The main takeaway from this series is that the Blue Jackets still can make the postseason. They are currently only three points behind the Blackhawks. They do have their work cut out from them, though. They will have to play as they did against Carolina every night.
If Columbus wants a chance, they must start now. They need to find ways to claw out wins, keep the defense going, and claim the extra points in overtime and shootout games. If they can do that, they may be in the final playoff spot at the end of the regular season.