Blue Jackets secure postseason spot with 4-1 win
(TSX / STATS) -- NEWARK, N.J. -- It was anything but a normal game that allowed the Columbus Blue Jackets to clinch a playoff berth in what has been anything but a normal season for a team many thought would finish at the bottom of the standings.
Brandon Dubinsky and Lukas Sedlak had penalty shot goals and Boone Jenner scored twice as the Blue Jackets reached 100 points for the first time in franchise history with a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday afternoon at Prudential Center.
The Blue Jackets finished 28th in the standings a year ago. With three weeks to play, they are tied with the Washington Capitals for the NHL's best record and have a chance at capturing the Presidents' Trophy.
In any other division, the Blue Jackets would have home-ice advantage in the first round all but locked up; in the Metropolitan, they are only one point ahead of the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins.
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno chooses to see the team playing in the NHL's toughest division as a potential blessing down the stretch.
"These are the games when you can dive into your game plan and what you need to do and make sure that everything is firing on all cylinders come playoffs," he said. "We're really proud of what we've accomplished, but we know playoffs is a ways away. I think our mindset is still 'next game' and getting ready for that one. That's how you get through this and get excited about what's to come."
After winning 16 straight games, the Blue Jackets followed with a mediocre 13-12-2 stretch across January, February and March. But with the season winding down, the Blue Jackets are hot again, having won four straight and seven of eight with their sights on home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Or at the very least, holding off the Penguins for home ice in the first round.
"It's great, but we don't want to take our foot off the gas," Blue Jackets left winger Matt Calvert said. "We're still chasing the top spot in the league and that's something we're going to focus on the rest of the regular season and try to get as many (playoff) games as possible in front of our fans."
The Blue Jackets (47-18-6) took another step toward home ice but did so in an unexpected way against the Devils.
It started when Sedlak was awarded a penalty shot early in the first period after he was hooked during a short-handed breakaway by Devils defenseman Andy Greene. Sedlak converted to put the Blue Jackets ahead 1-0.
Boone Jenner, who added an empty-net goal with 1:57 remaining, scored the Blue Jackets' second straight short-handed goal less than four minutes later. He corralled a loose puck behind the Devils' net and banked a shot off goaltender Cory Schneider, who made 23 saves, and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
Adam Henrique responded with a breakaway goal seven seconds later to make it 2-1, but that's all the Devils got past Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 35 shots.
Dubinsky scored on a penalty shot at 6:28 of the second period, although it came with some confusion and controversy. Teammate Josh Anderson was tripped by Dalton Prout but didn't take the shot because of injury, coach John Tortorella said, even though Anderson returned to the ice only about four minutes later.
Devils coach John Hynes didn't seem to buy it, as the Blue Jackets were able to replace Anderson with Dubinsky after they initially tried to use Sam Gagner, who was not on the ice at the time of the penalty and therefore not eligible.
"The only thing we saw was Anderson had the penalty shot and he was on the bench," Hynes said. "Gagner came out. He wasn't on the ice. So I'm in no position as the opposing coach to determine if a player is hurt or not hurt. That's up to the referees and the other coach."
The Devils (26-33-12) have lost 12 of 13. Since starting the year 9-3-3, they have just 13 regulation wins in 58 games.
"They managed the puck pretty well," said Devils defenseman Steven Santini, one of the younger players expected to have a chance to show what he can do during the rest of the season.
"They weren't turning pucks over in the neutral zone. If they had space, they were making plays. If not, they were chipping it behind us and making us break out. Sometimes that's hard to play against."
The Blue Jackets have two games remaining against the Capitals and they could decide who opens the playoffs at home and who has to go on the road for at least the first rounds.
"We worked hard for that," Bobrovsky said of the playoff berth. "We have to worry about ourselves and work hard. That should prepare us for the playoffs."
NOTES: The last time the Blue Jackets had two penalty shots in one game was March 4, 2011. Matt Calvert and Antoine Vermette both failed to score against Calgary Flames G Miikka Kiprusoff. ... Blue Jackets C Alexander Wennberg (neck) did not play after suffering an upper-body injury against the Islanders on Saturday. ... Blue Jackets D Markus Nutivaara and LW Lauri Korpikoski were scratches. ... Devils LW Miles Wood did not play after leaving the Devils' previous game Friday with an upper-body injury. ... The Devils used seven defensemen and 11 forwards.
Updated March 19, 2017