For the Carolina Hurricanes, it was "win and you're in" on Monday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
That, uh, didn't go as planned. The Hurricanes got throttled 9-2 and yielded their spot to the Blackhawks, who earned the opportunity to face the Blue Jackets (who qualified for the final with their 3-2 win over Minnesota on Saturday).
For the third time in four years, the Blue Jackets have a chance to claim the NHL Prospects Tournament crown. They're making a habit of it. They've won it in dramatic fashion -- courtesy of Josh Anderson in 2014 -- and plowed their way through the tournament as they did in 2015 en route to back-to-back championships. Carolina, the defending champions, controlled its own destiny but that went up in smoke with the drubbing against Chicago.
One game to get it done. Can the Blue Jackets do it?
Head coach John Madden sat defensemen Ryan Collins and Gabriel Carlsson on Monday against St. Louis, opting to give his No. 1 defense pairing the night off to rest for the championship game. The Blue Jackets had a chance to beat the Blues and go 3-0-0 in round robin play, but gave up a late goal after tying things up in the third period. They should be ready to go for tonight's final, and the defense will have its hands full against a high-powered Blackhawks offense that's playing with a lot of confidence.
If the Blue Jackets are to win tonight, they will need their top line on the front foot. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Vitaly Abramov and Calvin Thurkauf have all played well throughout the week and shouldered much of the scoring load, but you can bet the Blackhawks will be aware of them all over the ice. Whether it's even strength or on the power play, this group has shown an ability to make plays and convert on opportunities, and they will need to score against a Blackhawks team that is averaging five goals per game in the tournament and only allowing 2.67.
Score early, score often and pick up your goaltender when you can (whoever that may be). The Blue Jackets should come into this game with swagger -- after all, they're the team with several appearances on the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup and two in the last three years.
If they win, they'd move past St. Louis into sole possession of first place with five prospects tournament victories.
Game Info: 7 p.m. start (streamed live on Fox Sports Go & BlueJackets.com)