At about the halfway mark of the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves struggling and coming off two straight losses. They now sit at 10-12-5 with 25 points.
Despite the many issues the team has experienced this season, they still have a path to the playoffs (although it is quickly shrinking). This piece will explore that road to the postseason and why it will be no easy task for them to accomplish.
The Blue Jackets’ Shrinking Playoff Odds
Over the course of the season, the Blue Jackets have watched their playoff odds steadily decrease as their struggles have become front-and-center.
According to MoneyPuck, on February 28, they had an 8.8% chance to make the postseason. That was down to 5.9% on March 2. The odds did go up slightly (7.6% chance on March 9) after two consecutive wins last week against the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars.
After Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to Sergei Bobrovsky and the Florida Panthers, the chances fell to just 4.5%, the fourth-worst odds in the NHL.
The Blue Jackets may have a small chance to make the playoffs, but it is quickly waning. Getting on track and making a run to the postseason will be no easy task.
Columbus’ Difficult Road Ahead
The road for Columbus to make the postseason is not an easy one. Out of 29 games left, 18 are against teams in playoff position, four of them are above .500.
The Chicago Blackhawks
Two of those 18 games are against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blue Jackets are 2-2-2 against the Blackhawks this season. The biggest reason for Columbus’ performance against Chicago has been Patrick Kane. Kane has four goals and nine assists against the Blue Jackets this season.
The two games left against Chicago are key for the Blue Jackets. Columbus is six points behind the Blackhawks for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. With four points up for grabs in those two games, it will be key to closing the gap.
Winning those games in regulation without giving up the extra point in overtime or the shootout is very important for the Blue Jackets.
The Florida Panthers
Of the 29 games left, five of them are against the Florida Panthers.
In their three games against the Panthers, the team has gone 1-1-1. Columbus has had some success against Florida this season, but if Sergei Bobrovsky continues to play how he has this season (9-2 record, 2.94 GAA), they will be a difficult team to beat down the stretch.
The Carolina Hurricanes
The Blue Jackets also have five games (including a four-game stretch in late March) left against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes currently sit in second place in the Central Division.
Columbus is 1-2-0 against Carolina this season. The common theme in those games for the Blue Jackets has been poor defense and goaltending. They have given up 15 goals in three games for a GAA (goals allowed average) of 5. Thirteen of those goals were allowed by Joonas Korpisalo, who has had a GAA of 4.33 against Carolina
If the struggles with defense and goaltending continue for the Blue Jackets against the Hurricanes, it will be very difficult for Columbus to win any more games against Carolina this season. This will not be an easy remaining series for the Jackets.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
Out of the top four teams, the Blue Jackets have the most remaining matchups with the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have six games remaining against the Central Division leaders.
Columbus has gone 1-0-1 in their first games against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
While the Blue Jackets have had some success against the Lightning this season, and in past seasons, the Lightning are down one of their top offensive weapons, Nikita Kucherov, winning more games against this red-hot team won’t be easy.
The Lightning is currently 18-4-2, with 38 points, and are 8-1-1 in their last 10. If the Blue Jackets can steal a few points from them, it will be big for a playoff push.
Can the Blue Jackets Walk This Path?
The Blue Jackets must get going fast if they want to complete this path. If they want a chance of making the postseason, they need to take four points from Chicago without giving up the loser point, solve the Bobrovsky puzzle, tighten up on defense against the Hurricanes, and steal a few points from Tampa Bay.
Mathematically, the Blue Jackets have yet to be eliminated. However, with the difficulty of games to come, the struggles Columbus has had against some of these teams, and the small margin of error they are allowed for the rest of the season, it is unlikely that the Blue Jackets can gain all of the ground back.
I think it may be best for the Blue Jackets and their fans to admit they will be most likely watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home come this spring and focus on next season.