A spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs can be clinched for one team tonight, while another is looking to play spoiler. The Columbus Blue Jackets (45-31-4, 5th Metropolitan) are in the “Big Apple” to take on the New York Rangers (31-36-13, 7th Metropolitan).
The Blue Jackets, who haven’t played since Tuesday, need just one win in their final two games to secure a playoff spot. They are currently occupying the final Wild Card spot, tied in points with the Canadiens but with a game in hand. As for New York, their playoff hopes ended a while ago, but they have an opportunity to end their season on a high note.
Columbus came out on top 7-5 the last time these teams played each other, back on January 13th. Tonight, the Jackets are big favorites on the road at -225.
On the Edge
Faced with a decision to buy or sell at the trade deadline, Columbus opted for the former, and now sit one win away from a return to the postseason. After starting March with losses in seven of 11, their new pieces started to settle in, resulting in a five-game winning streak where they out-scored their opponents 24-4. Their win streak snapped on Tuesday, but Columbus is playing their strongest hockey at the best time.
Although the offense has improved over the last few games, the season-long numbers are still fairly average. Columbus ranks 12th in goals, 10th in shooting percentage, and 16th in shots, along with a power play that is in the bottom-five. They’re a strong defensive group though, sitting 11th in goals allowed but seventh in shots allowed and second in penalty kill percentage.
Impending free agent Artemi Panarin in the leading scorer of the bunch with 84 points. Next up in Cam Atkinson with 69 points, including a team-leading 41 goals. Those two along with Pierre-Luc Dubois (59 points) are the most dangerous weapons Columbus has, along with deadline acquisition Matt Duchene, who has 12 points in 21 games for Columbus.
Sergei Bobrovsky will likely be the man in net tonight for the Blue Jackets. “Bob” is 36-24-1 with a 2.59 goals against average and .913 save percentage.
A Big (Apple) Rebuild
Nearly no one expected the Rangers to compete for the playoffs this year. After several years of trading veterans, New York is focusing on the future. They will hope to end not just their season on a high note, but also the career of president Glen Sather. The team announced earlier this week that Sather would be stepping down after a nearly 20-year stretch as president and general manager. The Rangers are 3-7-0 in their last 10 games, and currently have the sixth-best lottery odds.
New York is 23rd in goals scored, 28th in shots, 19th in shooting percentage and 17th in power play percentage. They also struggle defensively, ranking 24th in goals allowed, 29th in shots allowed, and 27th in penalty kill percentage.
Mika Zibanejad has been the standout on the roster this year, with a team-leading 30 goals and 42 assists. Chris Kreider is next up with 51 points. The Rangers traded veterans Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello this season, their third and fourth-leading scorers. Four other players still on the roster have 30 or more points.
The backup Alexandar Georgiev will start for the Rangers tonight. Georgiev is 13-13-3 with a 2.95 GAA and .912 save percentage.
Columbus is the better team, has a playoff spot on the line, and needs the win. They should be able to get it done and punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’ll take the Blue Jackets -225 to win on the road.