Tuesday 20th March, 2018
-13 ℃ | -5 ℃Montreal

Surging Blue Jackets ready to host Canadiens

Sports Xchange - Monday 12th March, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Instead of looking over their shoulder, the Columbus Blue Jackets are looking up in the standings now.

By virtue of a four-game winning streak, the Blue Jackets have maintained the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference. They are just one point behind the New Jersey Devils for the first wild-card spot and four points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

With a win on Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens (25-31-12) at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets (36-28-5) could move past the Devils in the standings with 12 games remaining in the regular season.

"The biggest plus for us is we can control our own destiny, so there's no sense of looking at the scoreboard at this particular time," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "I know they will after games. I know they talk about it, but if we take care of our business, we'll be OK."

The Blue Jackets are eyeing an unprecedented second straight trip to the NHL playoffs in franchise history, but they know there's plenty of work yet to do. The Florida Panthers are in hot pursuit while going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, trailing the Blue Jackets by just two points in the wild-card race.

"We've got to stop looking at who's behind us and start looking at who's in front of us, trying to catch them," defenseman Zach Werenski said last week. "We're playing some good hockey right now and we're not that far off the teams in front of us, so hopefully we can catch one."

Werenski and fellow defenseman Seth Jones have stepped their games up a notch in the past week. Werenski has scored a goal in three of the past five games. Jones came through with two goals in a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, giving him three goals and two assists in the past two games.

"It's not rocket science the way we play," Jones said. "We've been trying to play this way all year. I think when the team was struggling a little bit, we took a step back, in my opinion, and we focused on the defensive side of the puck more as a team, as a whole. Now our confidence is back."

The matchup with the Canadiens ends a four-game homestand for the Blue Jackets. The last two wins haven't come easily. They edged the Colorado Avalanche in overtime and then held off the Red Wings in a nail-biter until the final seconds.

"It's too close," forward Matt Calvert said after the Blue Jackets eked out the win over the Red Wings. "There's a lot of positives in our game right now, but we need to keep taking that next step if we want to be in the playoffs and be a good team in the playoffs."

The Canadiens aren't headed for the playoffs this year. They come to Columbus at the end of a six-game road trip on which they've gone 1-3-1, including a 3-2 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

"We can show that even against a good team we can play good hockey," said Canadiens left winger Charles Hudon, who played at Tampa Bay for the first time on the trip after suffering a hand injury.

Injuries have eaten up the Canadiens this season with goaltender Carey Price and captain Max Pacioretty sidelined, and they suffered another one Saturday when third-line center Phillip Danault was hit in the face by a stick.

Montreal's special teams have also proved to be a handicap. Opponents have scored a short-handed goal in all five games on the current trip and converted 57.1 percent of their chances with a man advantage. Meanwhile, the Canadiens' power play has produced just one goal in 16 opportunities.

"It's frustrating because you always want to win," Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. "It's important to try to stay positive with the players and give them challenges, give them a chance to grow and gain experience."

The Canadiens last faced the Blue Jackets on Nov. 27 in Montreal, claiming a 3-1 victory.

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