The All-Star Break has arrived, and things are about to get (even more) fun.
This is the point of the season in which teams start making serious pushes to finish strong in hopes of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite what many thought at the beginning of the season, the Blue Jackets find themselves in a Wild Card spot in the tough Eastern Conference and need to capitalize on every chance they can from here until April.
The best way to see the opposing prospects for the rest of the season is to take a look at each game and break them down from easiest to hardest. The Blue Jackets certainly do not have the hardest remaining schedule, but there are definite trap games to be avoided if they want to make their fourth-straight playoff appearance.
- Easiest: There are a few games that stand out above the rest of the remaining schedule as must-wins against weaker opponents. The one that is obviously the easiest on paper is at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 7th against the dumpster fire that is the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings only have 28 points on the season, 13 behind the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings, so this should be an easy win for the Jackets. Outside of that game, two games against the Devils on Feb. 16 and March 23 should be more points for Columbus; From there, Montreal on Feb. 2, Buffalo on Feb. 1 and 13, the Rangers on Feb. 14 and March 24, Minnesota on both Feb. 25 and 28 and the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 24 could very easily present themselves as an opportunity for wins for the Jackets.
- Swing Games: These are the games that could easily go one way or the other and present themselves as some of the most important games going forward to ensure another playoff appearance. These games include Florida on Feb. 4, Colorado on Feb. 8, Nashville on Feb. 22 and March 14, Vancouver on both March 1 and 8, Toronto on March 21 and the Islanders on March 30th. The Jackets have faired well overall against all of these opponents, but they all respectively pose threats and could easily steal points from Columbus going down the stretch.
- Hardest Games Down the Stretch: The following games pose the biggest threat to the Jackets down the stretch. These teams are either ones ahead of them in the standings or historically do well against the Blue Jackets. Playing the Lightning, despite their "down" season three times down the stretch is no easy feat to take on. The Jackets play them on Feb. 10, March 27 and April 2. Other opponents outside of the Metro that will pose threats are Calgary on March 4, Edmonton on March 7, Boston on March 16 and Dallas on March 28. All three of these teams currently find themselves in playoff spots due to solid play throughout the 2019-20 season.
- Must-Wins With all the games listed above, it leaves five games down the stretch of the season that are must-wins for the Blue Jackets, with all of them being against a Metropolitan Division rival. Two games against the Flyers on Feb. 18 and 20 could help the Jackets create distance in the Wild Card race, as Philadelphia is currently two points back of Columbus with one less game played. The same situation comes during the last game of the season on April 3, with the Jackets taking on the Carolina Hurricanes. The 'Canes are a very strong team and will surely be in a similar situation come April. The other games that would be huge wins for the Blue Jackets playoff hopes are Pittsburgh on March 12 and Washington on March 19.
Follow 1st Ohio Battery