The Blue Jackets made it clear that they were all-in on a playoff run by acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel prior to the trade deadline, and with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky staying put, the Columbus had assembled one of the most star-studded rosters in franchise history and were poised to lock down a playoff spot.
Despite the additions, though, the team hasn't been able to find their groove, and since March 2, the Blue Jackets have posted a 6-6-1 record and have been unable to escape the playoff bubble by winning their way to safety. But if the Blue Jackets do make the playoffs this year, it's Bobrovsky who will deserve most of the credit.
Bobrovsky has carried the load for the Blue Jackets this season, who currently house four goalies – Bobrovsky, Joonas Korpisalo, Keith Kinkaid and Elvis Merzlikins – on their roster, and the Blue Jackets' No.1 netminder has been especially excellent lately. After a slow start to the season, which saw Bobrovsky post a sub-.900 save percentage into early December, he has turned it on. Since Dec. 13, Bobrovsky's .920 SP is tied with Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart for the eighth-best mark in the league among the 28 goaltenders with at least 25 appearances, and Bobrovsky has been even better in recent weeks. Since March 5, he has won six of eight games, posting a .957 SP and 1.25 goals-against average across those contests, not to mention shutouts in each of his past three victories. One of those, his 46-save shutout against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 15, another wild-card contender, was huge for Columbus' playoff prospects.
His recent performance highlights why Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was hesitant to trade Bobrovsky, a pending unrestricted free agent, and further proof that Bobrovsky is the best goaltender – and perhaps the best player, period – Columbus has ever had. Bobrovsky has two Vezina Trophies under his belt and his recent play looks like a return to form.
Bobrovsky has had to be good, too, because Columbus' offense has vastly underperformed down the stretch. The Blue Jackets can't be happy with the output they've received from Panarin or Pierre-Luc Dubois. Panarin (78 points in 73 games) has a single goal in the past 13 games, while Dubois (56 points in 76 games) has just two points over that span. Late-season additions Duchene (eights points in 17 games) and Dzingel (nine points in 15 games) have disappointed in a time where Columbus' offense has really dried up. Add in Cam Atkinson's (66 points in 74 games) six points in March and you have a team that simply isn't getting enough out of its offense.
It's not about to get any easier for the offense to find its form, though. Thursday, Columbus will meet up with the Montreal Canadiens, who hold a two-point advantage in the wild-card race, and the Habs aren't an easy team to break a goal drought against – all-world netminder Carey Price and a stingy defense will make sure of that. But in a game with two teams battling it out for the final wild-card spot, with the club's goaltenders taking center stage, Columbus can't afford to give Montreal any points on the night.
After Thursday's tilt, the Blue Jackets have five games remaining, and as good as Bobrovsky has been, he'll need some help if Columbus is going to overtake Montreal and continue the campaign beyond the regular season.