A trio of home-and-home series stand between the Columbus Blue Jackets and their first playoff berth in franchise history.
While Thursday night’s game against visiting Calgary is alone on the schedule, Columbus may soon be getting even more familiar with the Flames.
The Blue Jackets’ postseason push looks more and more like it could lead to a first-round matchup with Calgary, which will try to bolster its Northwest Division lead and salvage two points from its brief road trip.
A 14-5-2 stretch has put Columbus (38-28-7) in prime position to reach the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s eighth season, although the team will encounter a strange scheduling quirk in the season’s final two weeks.
After Thursday’s game, the Blue Jackets’ next six contests will feature two in a row against St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago.
They could soon be playing up to seven in a row against the Flames. If Columbus remains in sixth place in the Western Conference and Calgary holds on to its division lead, the teams would face off in the postseason’s first round. The Blue Jackets have a three-point lead on seventh-place Anaheim, while the Flames have the same edge on Vancouver in the Northwest.
Columbus will be looking for a quick turnaround after a disappointing 2-1 overtime defeat at Tampa Bay on Tuesday night - just its second loss in the last eight games.
Coach Ken Hitchcock’s team outshot the Lightning 34-17, but allowed the tying goal with 9:05 to play in regulation and the winner 3:04 into overtime.
“We don’t have any success when we get away from the game plan and turn the puck over and force the puck way too much,” Hitchcock said. “And I’m going to talk to those players on it (Wednesday).”
The Flames (42-25-6) also have room for improvement on the heels of Wednesday night’s 2-0 loss at Pittsburgh - the first time they were shut out since a season-opening 6-0 loss at Vancouver on Oct. 9.
While the team’s offense has been solid behind standout wingers Michael Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla all season, ranking fourth in the league with 3.2 goals per game, it has scored two or fewer goals six times during a 3-6-0 skid in the past three weeks.
After scoring at least one power play goal in five of the previous six games with the unit converting at a 26.1 percent clip this month, Calgary’s power play came up empty on five chances against Pittsburgh.
“The difference for us was not being able to score on the power play,” coach Mike Keenan said. “When you get five opportunities and you come up with nothing, you’re not going to win a hockey game on the road.”
While both clubs will be looking to gain momentum for a possible first-round meeting, the home team has won all four games between the Flames and Blue Jackets this season, with the last two games taking place in Calgary.
After a 5-4 shootout win on Jan. 21, the Flames won 4-1 on Feb. 24, with Cammalleri and Iginla combining for six goals in those games.
Columbus, however, beat Calgary 3-1 at home Nov. 8 in rookie Steve Mason’s third career start. The Blue Jackets have gotten even better at Nationwide Arena as the season has gone on, going 18-6-1 there since Thanksgiving.
Mason has also emerged, and his 2.22 goals-against average ranks second in the league behind Boston’s Tim Thomas. Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is in the midst of his worst statistical season in six years, but he’s 12-3-2 with a 1.88 GAA all-time against Columbus.