UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- A year ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets were the darlings of the Western Conference playoff race. Behind Sergei Bobrovsky’s play that would later earn him the Vezina Trophy and the excitement of seeing a downtrodden franchise finally begin to rise up, it was easy to root for #Lumbus.
They fell a tiebreaker short, but the Blue Jackets have proven that last season’s rising wasn’t a fluke. Yet, the way they are finishing this year is helping them toward another early off-season.
Sunday afternoon’s 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders was their third defeat in their four games and left Columbus four points behind the third place New York Rangers — who they lost to on Friday night — in the Metropolitan Division and two points behind the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs for an Eastern Conference wildcard spot.
You could call it Columbus’ most frustrating loss of the season. They were sloppy, lacked a sense of urgency and despite 41 shots, didn’t really test Evgeni Nabokov. After an emotional loss to the Rangers as Rick Nash returned to town, Sunday was a perfect opportunity to rebound and resume their playoff chase.
The Blue Jackets have games in-hand over the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Washington Capitals, all teams they sit behind. Sunday was a wasted chance.
“We don’t have opportunities to miss one game,” said head coach Todd Richards. “We don’t. We’re right in the dogfight. We’re looking up at teams right now. This was a game in-hand against some other teams and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Columbus won 11 of their final 14 games last season to put themselves on the brink of the playoffs. It’s been anything but exciting this stretch run. Since the Olympic break, along with the teams ahead of them, the Blue Jackets have been chasing consistency.
“We were the same team every night [last season],” said Ryan Johansen. “Right now we’ve got to make sure we get to that level again and we play that way every night.”
“Last year at this point, our game was pretty flawless,” said Richards. “Coming out of this game right here, it looks like we need some adjustment, and not just a little adjustment.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Blue Jackets. Five of their next six opponents occupy playoff spots, with two of them — Detroit and Philadelphia — ahead by just a few points.
A short memory and an eagerness to feed off their current state of desperation would serve them well. The Islanders game was a big chance to get back on track, but a flat effort could cost them dearly in the end.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Richards. “That’s probably the best word for it.”
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