Clinched and unclenched, that's the tale of the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight.
Tonight's 3-2 overtime victory clinched a playoff berth for the Columbus Blue Jackets – their third consecutive playoff appearance – but it certainly wasn't easy. Let's dive right into tonight's Three Things.
Russians Punch The Ticket
The prevailing storyline around – and black cloud of sadness above – the Blue Jackets this year has been the seemingly-inevitable departure of Russian superstars Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. Even if this is their last hurrah with the club, well, they're putting on a show.
Bobrovsky was superb tonight, stopping 25 of 27 shots and stopping all three Rangers shootout attempts. While it's tough (or perhaps impossible) to top his scorpion-kick skate save from last year against Detroit, given the context, tonight's cross-crease save late in the third period may be the greatest save he's made in a Blue Jackets uniform.
That is art.
Just minutes after that save, Panarin stepped up for a gorgeous goal of his own to give the Blue Jackets the lead, splitting three Rangers defenders and uncorking a wrister that went bar-down to give Columbus a 2-1 lead.
That wouldn't be the last time he'd go bar-down on the night. He sniped the far corner on his shootout attempt to give Bobrovsky a chance to shut the door, and Bobrovsky didn't fail.
It's been a tumultuous season for the two Russians, but thanks to their contributions tonight, the Blue Jackets are going dancing.
Montreal Canadiens:— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) April 6, 2019
Sergei Bobrovsky: pic.twitter.com/cEQYFUZ0cO
News of Alexander Texier getting called up to the Columbus Blue Jackets was a bit surprising, given that the AHL's Cleveland Monsters are still in the thick of a playoff race and Texier had just come over to North America a few weeks prior. The announcement that he would actually dress for tonight's game was a downright shocker. Still, after the final horn, nobody's doubting the club's decision.
He didn't light up the scoresheet, but Texier was solid tonight in his NHL debut. The 19-year-old played 11:49 and registered three shots (all in the first period) and two hits, and generally seemed calm and decisive out on the ice tonight. Consider his coach, John Tortorella, impressed by that poise.
Torts very impressed with Alexandre Texier. Oh jeez. I think he was probably the calmest one on the bench. Had no fear at all. Thats an interesting one there, boy. #CBJ— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) April 6, 2019
Texier's development is the latest – and potentially best – example of general manager Jarmo Kekalainen's ability to identify talent through the draft. Not even two full years ago, Texier was selected in the second round of the draft (with a pick acquired for a former fourth-rounder in Keegan Kolesar who still hasn't played in the NHL) out of France, having never played in one of the traditionally "elite" development leagues. He was seen as a long-term project who was raw but could show some upside.
No one could have imagined that he'd be centering the third line of a playoff-bound NHL team before his 20th birthday, and yet that's precisely where he found himself tonight.
Not Done Yet
Tonight's victory gets the Blue Jackets into the playoffs, but that doesn't mean they can afford to coast at all against the Ottawa Senators tomorrow night. If the Philadelphia Flyers can topple the Carolina Hurricanes – as unlikely as that may seem – and the Blue Jackets can gain a point on Carolina in the standings, their seeding will be far more favorable when the playoffs begin.
As it stands now, Columbus is the eighth seed in the East, and is pencilled in for a series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who wrapped up the President's Trophy weeks ago and seem as close to a juggernaut as a team can be in the cap era. The Bolts have owned Columbus this year, roughing them up on the scoreboard, although the Blue Jackets are a different team now, and actually did carry play for long stretches in those games earlier this year.
Still, leap-frogging the Hurricanes would be a coup for Columbus, as it'd get them a rematch with the Washington Capitals. It'd be far from easy, sure, but Columbus has had plenty of success this year against Washington, and could get revenge for their first-round exit last April.
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