NHL Hockey

'Win-and-in' Blue Jackets look to clinch at Rangers

It took the Columbus Blue Jackets longer than they anticipated to round into form following a series of trade-deadline moves in February.

But on Friday night, those trades could yield the dividends sought by the Blue Jackets, who will look to clinch the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth when they visit the New York Rangers in the penultimate game of the season for both teams.

The Blue Jackets and Rangers are each coming off losses in their most recent games. Columbus hasn't played since Tuesday, when it fell to the visiting Boston Bruins, 6-2. New York dropped a 4-1 decision at home against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

The Blue Jackets (45-31-4, 94 points) entered Thursday in possession of the final wild-card spot in the East and got some help from the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

The Montreal Canadiens, who also entered Thursday with 94 points in 80 games, fell to Washington 2-1, meaning Columbus needs just one win in its final two games to secure a playoff spot. The Blue Jackets would win any tiebreaker with the Canadiens by virtue of their 44 regulation or overtime wins, as Montreal has 41.

The Carolina Hurricanes (45-29-7, 97 points) wrapped up the seventh of eight Eastern Conference playoff berths by beating the visiting New Jersey Devils 3-1 on Thursday.

If the Blue Jackets can't beat the Rangers on Friday -- or if they lose in overtime or a shootout -- they will have another opportunity Saturday at Ottawa. The Canadiens' last game is Saturday at Toronto.

"Our destiny is completely in our hands now, which is exciting," said center Matt Duchene, who was one of six players acquired by the Blue Jackets in February, before the Canadiens' loss to Washington. "We can control everything that's going on, going forward."

It didn't look as if the Blue Jackets would be in such a position when they opened March by losing seven of their first 11 games (4-6-1). But the new pieces began to gel during a five-game winning streak -- including a win over Montreal -- that ended Tuesday night. Columbus outscored the opposition 24-4 and recorded three shutouts during the surge.

While the Blue Jackets are hoping Friday marks the beginning of a playoff run, the Rangers (31-36-13, 75 points) will be ending an era with their home finale.

The team announced Thursday that president Glen Sather will step down at the end of the season, though he will remain with the organization as a senior adviser.

Sather -- who built four Stanley Cup-winning teams as the Edmonton Oilers' general manager and head coach from 1977 through 1989 and then oversaw another Cup winner as general manager in 1990 -- was named the Rangers' president and general manager on July 1, 2000 and remained in both roles through the 2014-15 season.

New York reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and won the President's Trophy in 2014-15, Sather's final two seasons as general manager, before he yielded that position to Jeff Gorton. The team said Gorton would remain general manager as it searches for a new president.

"I truly believe the team is headed in the right direction and think the future is bright," Sather said in a team-issued press release. "I look forward to transitioning to a different role and continuing to play a part in building the next Rangers Stanley Cup contender."

--Field Level Media

Updated April 4, 2019

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