With just 14 games remaining in the regular season, the Blue Jackets are aware of the road that lies ahead.
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To get to the postseason, they'll have to avoid the potholes along the way.
Accumulating 70 points in their first 68 games, the Blue Jackets will need at least 22 points from here to the house. A record of 11-3 or 10-2-2 isn't by any means impossible, but it would require them to march at the most torrid pace in franchise history.
The most intriguing part of the stretch run coming up is the opposition. They will face the Detroit Red Wings four times in the final 14, and two games apiece with division rivals Nashville and Chicago are looming. A miserable 1-5 against the Predators this season isn't an encouraging number, nor is the seven goals against by the Blackhawks a few weeks ago in Columbus.
Though the head coach claims this is a different team since the trading deadline in terms of competition level, his players will have to elevate to an unheard-of altitude to avoid the links in mid-April.
Perhaps the biggest key to a final push in the coming weeks is a healthy Fredrik Modin. The left winger has been in and out of practice this week and hasn't played in the past two games. He skated briefly in the team practice this morning and is questionable for tomorrow night's game against Edmonton.
Goaltender Pascal Leclaire will be the guy likely for the balance of the year. He's played his best hockey since Christmas in the past two weeks, beginning with the shootout win in Ottawa. The Blue Jackets have one back-to-back remaining, indicative of Leclaire's heavy workload to come.
Aside from restoring the roster to full health, the Blue Jackets must start playing better at home. With a 4-2 loss to San Jose last Wednesday, they dropped to 0-3-2 in the last five home games. An atmosphere that was electric and palpable in December and January has settled down, and if the Blue Jackets carry their recent road game into Nationwide, things will certainly get interesting.
Joakim Lindstrom, called up from Syracuse of the American Hockey League yesterday, is likely to play tomorrow night. He's expected to play with Rick Nash and Manny Malhotra on the top line. The last time these two teams hooked up (Dec. 31 in Columbus), Lindstrom was the orchestrator of Nash's game-winning goal with just over three minutes left in regulation.
Can they get on the necessary pace to make the race even more exciting?
The next three games will be a telling prelude.
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