With at least a point in 11 of their last 13 games, the Columbus Blue Jackets have moved toward the first playoff berth in franchise history.
To lock up that elusive berth, the Blue Jackets will likely need to continue their success against the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that’s already making postseason plans.
Columbus searches for its third straight win over the Blackhawks on Sunday at Nationwide Arena in its first of two matchups with Chicago in four days.
The Blue Jackets (40-29-9) rallied to tie Nashville on Saturday night on Jason Williams’ goal with 4:17 remaining in regulation, but Columbus missed its chance for a crucial second point when Steve Mason couldn’t stop the Predators’ final shootout attempt in a 5-4 defeat.
“The point’s big, but we did not play well in the second and third periods so we will have to address that,” Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We can play better.”
Columbus is sixth in the Western Conference with 89 points - three ahead of eighth-place St. Louis and Nashville with four games left, and one ahead of seventh-place Anaheim. While the Blue Jackets have lost four of their last six, only one of those defeats came in regulation, and they are 8-2-3 in their last 13 contests.
Columbus is 3-1-2 in its last six meetings with Chicago overall, and 2-0-1 in its last three home games against the Blackhawks.
While Mason’s 2.25 goals-against average and league-leading 10 shutouts have helped push the Blue Jackets to the brink of the postseason, the rookie netminder has given up 13 goals in the last four games. Mason has split two starts against Chicago this season, allowing five goals.
Rick Nash scored twice in Saturday’s loss, giving him four goals and five assists in his last five games. His 38 career points versus Chicago are his most against any opponent.
The Blackhawks (42-24-11) clinched their first playoff berth in seven years Friday night with a 3-1 home victory over Nashville - their second straight win. Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 25 shots, and Jonathan Toews and Martin Havlat each had a goal and an assist.
“It’s a great achievement,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was our motivation at the start of the year, our No. 1 priority and objective.”
Chicago is guaranteed to finish no lower than sixth in the West, and is one point ahead of Calgary for the fourth spot and home ice in the opening round of the postseason - which could prove crucial to a Blackhawks club which has dropped its last five road games. On Sunday, they will have to play without one of their top scorers.
When Sharp missed 16 games earlier this season with a right knee injury, Chicago went 6-7-3.
Samuel Pahlsson, Toews and Havlat will try to continue their recent success. Pahlsson and Toews have each scored in consecutive games, while Havlat has six goals and seven assists in his last nine contests.
These teams meet again Wednesday at the United Center. The Blackhawks also visit Nashville on Tuesday.