SUNRISE, Fla. – The Columbus Blue Jackets are looking forward to their second playoff appearance in franchise history.
Ryan Johansen scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period and the Blue Jackets beat the Florida Panthers for the eighth straight time, 3-2 on Saturday night. Mark Letestu and Cam Atkinson also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky made 33 saves.
The Blue Jackets clinched the first wild-card spot and will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Just excited for the opportunity to play in the playoffs. That’s something you have to earn and our players went and earned it this year,” Columbus coach Todd Richards’ said. “We’ve got the opportunity to play one of the premier teams in the league, a team that has talented players, they know how to win, they’re well-coached, and we get to go in their building.”
Columbus’ previous playoff appearance was in 2009 when it was swept in four games by Detroit.
Philadelphia’s 4-3 overtime win over Pittsburgh earlier Saturday clinched third place in the Metropolitan Division for the Flyers and forced Columbus to the wild-card spot.
The Blue Jackets went 0-5 against the Penguins this season, losing all five in regulation.
“Half the guys wanted to play Pittsburgh. I think we owe them more than anything,” Atkinson said.
Johansen’s 33rd goal of the season, a one-timer from the left circle after taking a pass from James Wisniewski, got past Luongo at 5:58 of the third period to put Columbus ahead.
“When you get passes like that you really just have to hit the net,” Johansen said. “All the credit to Wis’ great vision hitting me down low there. Give them (Florida) credit, they played really hard tonight. I’m proud of the guys sticking with it and finally got two points.”
The Blue Jackets played eight games in the last 12 days; the last three on the road.
“The relief is that we got through the game healthy,” Richards said. “It was tough stretch that we just went through.When that happens, fatigue sets in and usually brains start not functioning in the right way, but we found a way to win the game.”
Jimmy Hayes and Vincent Trocheck scored for the Panthers. Roberto Luongo stopped 35 shots.
Hayes’ goal in the second period gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead. Hayes grabbed a loose puck in the Columbus zone, brought it down the boards on the right side and his shot from the right circle beat Bobrovsky at 6:35.
Columbus tied it at 2 on a power-play goal by Letestu at 10:13 of the second as his wrist shot from the right circle got to the net just as Luongo’s stick was knocked loose by a Columbus player.
The Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead just 47 seconds in when Atkinson took a pass from Brandon Dubinsky from the left circle to the right of the crease and tapped it in.
“They really took it to us the first 10 minutes, but we settled down afterward,” Luongo said. “Just came down to one break for them.”
The Panthers tied it 1-all when Trocheck scored a short-handed goal on a breakaway. His shot from the slot trickled under the Bobrovsky’s pads with about a minute left in the first. It was the Panthers’ fourth short-handed goal in their past seven games.
Florida captain Ed Jovanovski’s season ended early as he received a game misconduct for an elbow to Corey Tropp with under four minutes left in the first.
NOTES: Blue Jackets D Nikita Nikitin returned to the lineup after missing six games with a lower-body injury. … Panthers C Brandon Pirri has a five-game point-scoring streak. … The Panthers were outshot 16-3 during one stretch in the first period. … Nick Bjugstad finished the season as the Panthers’ leading scorer with 38 points, an NHL record for the fewest points to lead a team. The Panthers became the first team since the 2000-01 Minnesota Wild to go an 82-game season without a 40-point scorer.