This is a now-or-never final stretch for Artemi Panarin’s Columbus Blue Jackets, with at least a few of their key players on the way out after this season, and right now the team is seated on the “never” side of affairs. The Blue Jackets lost to the lowly Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night, which, coupled with a shutout win by the Canadiens against the Islanders, dropped Columbus out of the playoff picture with eight games remaining. The Blue Jackets have picked up just one point from their last three games, and if their goal this year is to win a playoff series for the first time in franchise history—which would almost certainly require avoiding the top-seeded Lightning in the first round—something has to change.
The Blue Jackets—starting back-up goalie Joonas Korpisalo because their coach said Sergei Bobrovsky is “nicked,” whatever that means—struggled to establish a presence in an ugly, boring game that was 1-1 through two periods last night. But as soon as Ken Hitchcock decided to reunite his two best players on one line instead of keeping Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid separate, they got picked apart, as that pair was on the ice for each of the Oilers’ three third period goals in the 4-1 win. In the Flames game on Tuesday, the Jackets started well with a Zach Werenski goal, but then appeared to switch off defensively as they allowed three straight Flames goals in about 10 minutes. A 2-1 OT loss in Boston on the second game of a back-to-back was more forgivable, but since that loss on Saturday, everything is trending in the wrong direction.
The team itself seems to disagree on what the problem is. After the Oilers loss, new acquisition Matt Duchene said that the pressure the team was facing was causing them to falter.
“I don’t even think desperation’s the right word, because we are desperate right now, but it’s freezing us,” he said. “I think we’ve got to be a little looser and more excited about what’s at stake here, rather than feeling the weight of it.”
But head coach John Tortorella sounds like he wishes his team was freaking out more than they are. “I wish there was panic in the game, because that would show some desperation,” he said. “So, I don’t agree with that.”
“We just have to have some sort of urgency to try and get back into this or we have no chance. I just don’t think we understand the level that we need to play at right now,” he also said.
So it’s time for the Blue Jackets to panic ... or, uh, not. Whatever their heart rates are when they’re on the ice, Columbus just has to win games. They now have a slightly under 50 percent chance to make the postseason, down almost 16 percent from 24 hours ago. Vancouver on Sunday is a place where the Jackets can try and get back on track, but if they don’t steady themselves there, this last little stretch will be very dangerous. Four of their following five games will be against teams currently in the playoff picture, including a huge home game against Montreal on Thursday.