On January 31, the Central Division’s leading team, the Winnipeg Jets, welcomed the sliding Columbus Blue Jackets to the Bell MTS Place for a back-and-forth game of hockey.
Despite taking the lead twice in the game, the Blue Jackets would leave Winnipeg without a point, seeing their hopes of snapping their losing streak, which now stands at four, collapse with just over one minute left of regulation.
Less than five minutes into the first period, the home team gave their fans something to cheer about. As the Blue Jackets tried to escape their zone, Anthony Duclair was robbed at the blueline by Joe Morrow. Blake Wheeler picked up the puck, drove down the slot, and squared a pass to Mark Scheifele, who fired a one-timer from the left-hand faceoff dot and beyond the goaltender.
Columbus came out swinging, pushing the Jets back into their own end. Artemi Panarin found the puck behind Connor Hellebuyck’s net, passing out to Seth Jones at the blueline. The defenseman fired what may have been a pass across the line towards his linemate Ryan Murray, which was too hot to handle. Murray picked up the puck and slid a pinpoint pass through Wheeler’s legs to the wide open Panarin, who wristed a shot past the goalie short side.
The Blue Jackets carried their momentum further, with Panarin’s break down the right-hand turning into a pass sent to Josh Anderson in the slot, who played a quick chip to Sergei Bobrovsky’s stick side.
The second period was quite even in its opening phases, but the score would be brought to 2-2 at the 13:21-mark. Surging into the offensive zone, Mason Appleton cut across the slot the release a backhand on goal from the back post. The puck bounced off of Bobrovsky’s glove, off of his stick, and trickled into the goal for Appleton’s third goal of the season, but the Blue Jackets were quick to quell the crowd and the advancing Jets. Winnipeg’s Brian Little found himself open at the back post, ready to put Jets on top, but a diving Nick Foligno batted away the puck just in time.
From the timely stop by Foligno, Alexander Wennberg surged up the right wing, broke into the offensive zone, and teed up Oliver Bjorkstrand in the faceoff circle, whose quick release on the wrister eluded Hellebuyck.
Columbus started the third period on top once again, but the Jets have proven to have a knack for coming from behind this season. On the powerplay, Tyler Myers worked a slick pass from the right side to the waiting and open Jack Roslovic, who flung a precise shot into the back of the net.
The Blue Jackets looked set to take the game to overtime at 3-3, but with only 1:14 left to play, an attempted Columbus clearance was foiled by Jacob Trouba, who punched the puck to Little behind the net. On the backhand, Little laid a pass into the slot where Kyle Connor slipped a one-timer beyond Bobrovsky to end the game 4-3 and send the house wild.
Reaction and odds movement
It’s a scary time in Columbus: not only are the Blue Jackets slipping on a lengthy losing streak and into a wildcard place which looks to be soon contested by the surging Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, but they may be forced to trade two of their most influential players. Artemi Panarin was once again Columbus’ deadliest weapon in the offensive end, while Bobrovsky came up with some almighty saves early in the second period to keep his team on top, but with both of their contracts expiring, and neither wanting to stick around at the end of the season, they may both be traded by the deadline.
Sitting in the second wildcard place with Panarin and Bobrovsky set to become UFAs this summer, it all looks to be collapsing for the Blue Jackets in a season where they have a team that’s currently equipped to challenge deep into the postseason. The Blue Jackets have now sunk to +1200 to win the Eastern Conference including the playoffs, and +650 to win the Metropolitan Division.
For the Winnipeg Jets, this was yet another high-scoring, late victory, having overcome the Boston Bruins 4-3 via a shootout in their last outing. The top line of Connor, Scheifele, and Wheeler continues to be incredibly potent, and one of the major reasons why they’re at +450 to win the Western Conference including the playoffs.
For Jets, this was just another example as to why they are neck-and-neck with the Calgary Flames to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals this season. It’s all up in the air for Columbus, however, with much hinging on their standing by the trade deadline, and their willingness to either go all-in this season or recuperate some value for their star players.