The Columbus Blue Jackets are playoff bound yet again thanks to today's win vs. New Jersey.
Throughout the 2016-17 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets have shown a variety of ways to win.
It was fitting, then, that the victory Sunday that clinched a playoff berth followed the same theme.
The Blue Jackets scored twice on penalty shots and had two short-handed goals in a 4-1 victory at New Jersey, improving the team to the 100-point mark (47-18-6), clinching a playoff spot for the third time in franchise history, and re-tying Washington atop the Metro Division and NHL standings.
How unique was it? Columbus became just the third team in NHL history, per Elias Sports, to score a pair of penalty shot goals in one game. It was also just the third time in franchise history and first time since 2011 the Jackets potted a pair of shorthanded goals in a game.
"I think we had four goals and one assist in the game. How strange is that?" head coach John Tortorella said. "1 o'clock games. You just never know what is going to happen. It was sloppy at times, but I'm proud of the group."
Boone Jenner scored twice for Columbus, Lukas Sedlak and Brandon Dubinsky added tallies, while goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 35 saves in the win.
Columbus never trailed in the game, taking the lead on a shorthanded, penalty shot goal by Sedlak 6:32 into the contest. Sedlak returned to the lineup for the first time in more than a month with fellow center Alexander Wennberg out, and he made no mistake in beating Cory Schneider with a shot to the blocker on the solo breakaway after having having drawn the penalty when hooked by Andy Greene.
Less than four minutes later, the penalty kill was back on the board, all thanks to a phenomenal effort by Jenner for his 15th tally of the year. Jenner outworked the Devils PK to establish possession in the offensive zone before eventually banking the puck into the net off Schneider at 10:23.
The momentum didn't hold, however, thanks to a bit of a fluky goal seven seconds later by Adam Henrique. The Devils player knocked down a pass near the blue line, skated in and powered the puck by Bobrovsky for the goal. Columbus challenged, believing Henrique was offside, but review upheld the goal, and Henrique also made contact with Bobrovsky on the score.
No matter, however, as Columbus was able to shepherd the game to the intermission up 2-1 before adding to the lead in the second with another penalty shot goal at 6:28 of the second.
This time, Josh Anderson earned the call when he was tripped by Dalton Prout, though he was unable to take the shot because he was shaken up on the play. Dubinsky was chosen to shoot instead, and he also beat Schneider, ripping a shot that went bar down and in to double the Columbus advantage.
Brandon Dubinsky scores.— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) March 19, 2017
Cory Schneider is mad. pic.twitter.com/wxVCTZ0efv
"We thought it was his knee," Tortorella said of Anderson. "I just think he twisted his ankle. I'm not sure what happened. I thought I could put someone else out there with Sam (Gagner), but you have to take someone off the ice. Once they told us Sam couldn't do it, I saw Dubi and Jens just stare at me. I had to pick one of them, and Dubi got the chance and it was a big goal."
Cam Atkinson had the best scoring chance of the third but was turned aside by Schneider's pad near the midpoint of the frame, and Jenner cemented the win with an empty-net goal with 1:57 to play. New Jersey pushed some but never truly threatened as Columbus improved to 30-1-2 on the year when leading after two periods.
"In the third, I think, for the most part we locked it down just as we have when we've been successful all year," Dubinsky said. "It was a great game. I think everybody contributed.
"It was tough on a back-to-back. Afternoon games, you never know what you're going to get, but guys played hard for two games and we're going home happy."
The Blue Jackets moved to 8-2 in March while New Jersey fell to 1-8.
The Blue Jackets had attempted 32 penalty shots in franchise history coming into the game, going 0 for 2 this year previously. The only previous time the team had two penalty shots in one game was March 4, 2011, at Calgary, when Matt Calvert and Antoine Vermette were denied by Miikka Kiprusoff.
This is by far the earliest in a season Columbus has clinched a playoff spot, continuing a year of records. The Blue Jackets clinched their first bid on April 8, 2009, while clinching April 9, 2013 the second time around.
Wennberg took a hard hit from the Islanders’ Ryan Strome in the second period Saturday. He returned to the game and played a usual amount of minutes but was held out against the Devils, putting 12 goals and 42 assists on the bench. It was the first game he missed all season.
“We want to be careful with him so he’s out,” Tortorella said.
Jenner, Atkinson, Jack Johnson, Zach Werenski and Brandon Saad remain Blue Jackets who have played in every game.
Columbus has two days off before two big ones – a home game Wednesday against a Toronto team fighting for its playoff life (7 p.m.) before a quick Thursday trip to take on the Capitals in Washington (7 p.m.).