As the Blue Jackets race down the stretch for the team's final eight games, the franchise is in a unique spot: Looking for the first Presidents' Trophy, given to the team in the NHL with the most points, in franchise history.
It would be the first piece of team silverware in franchise history, but more is at stake than just winning the trophy. Fending off Pittsburgh and Washington to win the Metro would allow the Jackets home ice through the Eastern Conference playoffs, and it would allow the team to avoid facing either the Caps or Pens in the opening round of the playoffs.
The No. 2 seed in the Metro will play the No. 3 seed under the league's division-focused format, setting up the NHL's most competitive first-round matchup and knocking one of the league's top teams in the opening round. Meanwhile, the division's winner will face the second wild card in the first round, which is being battled over by Toronto, Boston, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders.
In other words, finishing ahead of the Caps and Pens would be huge for the Blue Jackets for a number of reasons, though catching the Caps might be a big ask. With eight games to play for each Metro team heading into Pittsburgh's game tonight, Washington has 106 points, three ahead of Columbus and Pittsburgh at 103. And don't look now, but Chicago has 102 points in the Western Conference, leaving the Blackhawks as a Presidents' Trophy contender as well.
With that in mind, we figured it would be a good time to see what each team had left on its schedule. And if you need to know more about the NHL's tiebreaking system, clear your mind, make a sandwich, and click here.
|CBJ (103 pts)||WAS (106)||PIT (103)||CHI (102)|
|3/28 BUFFALO||3/28 @ MINNESOTA||3/26 PHILADELPHIA||3/27 @ TAMPA BAY|
|3/30 @ CAROLINA||3/29 @ COLORADO||3/29 CHICAGO||3/29 @ PITTSBURGH|
|3/31 @ CHICAGO||3/31 @ ARIZONA||3/31 @ NY RANGERS||3/31 COLUMBUS|
|4/2 WASHINGTON||4/2 @ COLUMBUS||4/2 CAROLINA||4/2 BOSTON|
|4/4 @ PITTSBURGH||4/4 @ TORONTO||4/4 COLUMBUS||4/4 @ COLORADO|
|4/6 WINNIPEG||4/6 NY RANGERS||4/6 @ NEW JERSEY||4/6 @ ANAHEIM|
|4/8 @ PHILADELPHIA||4/8 @ BOSTON||4/8 @ TORONTO||4/8 @ LOS ANGELES|
|4/9 @ TORONTO||4/9 FLORIDA||4/9 @ NY RANGERS|
Breaking Things Down
- For Columbus, this isn't terrible. The Jackets do have five road games among the eight, but Carolina and Philadelphia are pretty much out of it, and Toronto might have clinched by the finale. Columbus also has 21 wins away from home, tied for second in the Eastern Conference behind the Rangers, who inexplicably have 27. Home games against non-playoff teams Buffalo and Winnipeg are also on the docket. One quirk of the schedule coming home is that all of these teams will play each other, with the Jackets hosting Washington and taking on Pittsburgh and Chicago on the road. Those, it goes without saying, are big games.
- For Washington, the fact the Caps alight on a five-game road trip starting Tuesday night stands out. Six of eight coming down the stretch are on the road for the Caps, who have been nearly unbeatable at home but a little less imposing (18-11-6) away from our nation's capital. There are five potential playoff teams on the slate, so it's not the easiest road coming home.
- For Pittsburgh, the Pens are another team that is nearly unstoppable at home (29-4-4) but not as good on the road (17-13-7). In other words, that three-game road jaunt at the end of the year looms large, but having four of the next five at home gives Pittsburgh a chance to rack up points. Columbus getting points on its April 4 trip looks paramount. The Jackets will also be rooting for the Blackhawks on Wednesday.
- For Chicago, the path to the Presidents' Trophy is almost nonexistent being four points back of Washington with one less game to play, but the Hawks do get games against the Jackets and Penguins down the stretch, so it was worth including them.
It's also worth noting the NHL has really backloaded the schedule, with each team in the Metro facing seven games in 12 days (seven in 11 for CBJ), five in the last eight days, and three in the last four. Hey, why not burn out your teams right before the most grueling playoffs in sports?
Toronto and New York will also loom large down the stretch. The Maple Leafs, looking for a rare playoff bid, play all three Metro contenders before the end of the season, while the Rangers twice host Pittsburgh in the World's Most Famous Arena and also trip to take on the Caps.
So does anyone have an edge? Pittsburgh's home stretch right here looms large, as the Pens, great in PPG Paints Arena, have a chance to really put pressure on the Jackets. On the other side of the coin, if you're a Jackets fan, Washington being on the road for its next five really gives you hope that Columbus might be able to make up ground.
When it is all said and done, it might come down to this for Columbus: The games against Washington, Pittsburgh and Chicago are circled on the calendar as four-point games. Win those and the Presidents' Trophy is within reach. Lose them and it's just a pipe dream.