There’s one team every NHL season that has been handpicked by a higher power to defy all logic throughout an 82-game season.
Two years ago, it was the Vegas Golden Knights. Last season, the St. Louis Blues rose from the dead and rode a crazy wave of momentum all the way to a Stanley Cup.
In the year of our lord 2020, it might just be the Columbus Blue Jackets.
What the Blue Jackets are doing right now is nothing short of miraculous, and John Tortorella has to be the runaway favorite for the Jack Adams Award.
Almost one year ago, the Blue Jackets stunned the hockey world and nearly destroyed the sports world. Columbus swept the 128-point Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, and then took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins to six games in the second round.
Despite that heroic postseason run, the Blue Jackets were projected to miss the playoffs after losing franchise cornerstones Artemi Panarin (to the Rangers) and Sergei Bobrovsky (to the Panthers).
When the calendar turned to Dec. 7, that appeared to be the case. The Blue Jackets were 11-14-4 after a 4-1 loss to Florida. At 26 points, the Jackets were the fourth-worst team in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus responded with a 12-game point streak (8-0-4) that when it finished, saw the Jackets only three points out of a wild card spot. But in the midst of that point streak, Columbus’ roster was being decimated by injuries.
Leading scorer Cam Atkinson broke his foot and was out four to six weeks; All-Star goalie Joonas Korpisalo (knee) has been out since Dec. 29. Josh Anderson (shoulder) has missed 24 games; Brandon Dubinsky (wrist) has not played this year; now All-Star defenseman Seth Jones (ankle) is on injured reserve as of Monday.
In total, the Blue Jackets have lost 291 man games this season. One has to wonder if there are ambulances on standby every time the cannon goes off.
But by some act of divine intervention, and with a man named Elvis, the Blue Jackets are 11-2-2 in their past 15 games and are tied with the New York Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division as of Tuesday.
Elvis Merzlikins may not get enough love for the Calder Trophy, but the rookie goaltender has been spectacular this season. After losing his first 10 starts, Merzlikins has gone 12-3-1 since Korpisalo went down with a goals-against-average of 1.57, a .950 save percentage, and he leads the league with five shutouts.
There aren’t enough peanut butter and banana sandwiches to go around, but Merzlikins is not all shook up by the moment. As a result, the Blue Jackets are firmly in playoff contention with 25 games to go. The remaining schedule is not kind; Columbus has 10 home games and 15 on the road, but if this goaltending continues to travel until Korpisalo comes back, there’s still a chance Columbus could host a first-round series.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if Columbus will have enough in the tank to get past Pittsburgh, Boston and Washington to make the Cup Final. However, once this team gets healthy, they will be a tough out in the playoffs, just like last year.
Then again, it was around this time of the year where Vegas and St. Louis showed they were teams of destiny. Maybe it’s time to think of the Blue Jackets in the same light.
Devils at Hurricanes: These are the kinds of games Carolina will need to take advantage of as they continue to push toward a playoff spot. The win at Vegas on Saturday was huge. The Canes should take advantage of this matchup against New Jersey. HURRICANES
Kings at Avalanche: The Stadium Series game takes place outdoors at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium, which should be a wonderful site. It’s still a home game for Colorado, which should have plenty of support to win this game against the struggling Kings. AVALANCHE
Blues at Predators: St. Louis is in a bit of a rut lately, losing four of five entering Tuesday’s game at Anaheim. The champs are still formidable but will need a win to turn things around. Playing the inconsistent Preds should help. BLUES
Last week: 2-1