These are halcyon days for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
With seven games remaining, including tonight's final matchup of the year with the Hurricanes, they have already set franchise records for wins with 49, six more than their 43 in 2013-14, and points with 105, 12 more than they've ever had before. Their goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, is the odds-on favorite for the Vezina Trophy. They are getting contributions from all over the lineup, with 11 players – also a franchise record – into double digits in goal scoring.
Since their 16-game winning streak ended in January, the Blue Jackets have gone 22-14-3 - still a 99-point pace, but not nearly as hot as they were during the streak. Don't blame Bobrovsky, though. Since the beginning of March he has pitched four shutouts, three of which came in a row, and has allowed more than two goals just twice in compiling a 12-game personal points streak.
Earlier in the season, when Columbus had the league’s best power play, the Hurricanes were able to neutralize it, forcing it into an oh-fer over three games. Since then, both the Hurricanes’ penalty kill and the Jackets’ power-play have fallen off a bit, but this is still a heavyweight matchup between two of the NHL's premier special-teams units.
The Jackets are led by Cam Atkinson, who has 34 goals, beating his previous career high by seven. Alexander Wennberg, Atkinson's setup man, has 43 helpers this season, putting him in the company of the likes of Joe Thornton, Artemi Panarin and Phil Kessel. Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski has tailed off from the torrid pace he had to start the season, but since hitting a bit of a lull during the middle of the campaign he has picked it up with a recent run of points in six of seven games.
And then there's Bobrovsky, who leads the league in wins, goals-against average and save percentage, and is second to Braden Holtby in shutouts. John Tortorella's team is primed to make a deep playoff run, but they will only go as far as their world-class goalie will take them.
With 105 points ranking them third in the Metro, the Jackets still have plenty of meaningful games down the stretch. After tonight, they will face the three teams above them in the standings: the Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, in order. If they aren't careful, this could be the definition of a trap game, especially against one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the past month. The Canes need to pull out a surprise win somewhere to claim a playoff spot, and this could be the chance to do it tonight.