Winnipeg at Columbus


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Columbus Blue Jackets aren't panicking yet, but there certainly are some concerns about the state of the team heading into the final three games of the regular season and the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets (49-22-8) enter their final home game of the regular season Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets (38-35-7) in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Until this week, the Jackets never lost more than two in a row all season.

That is not to say the Blue Jackets are down and out. They are headed toward the finish line of the best season in franchise history and will make only their third trip to the postseason.

Suddenly, the Blue Jackets are having trouble scoring. In seven of the past eight games, they failed to score more than two goals. They are 2-4-2 in those games with 12 goals. And they know they can't rely on Vezina Trophy candidate Sergei Bobrovsky to save them out every night.

"It is pretty frustrating we can't score more than one goal, but I really don't know what it is," said Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson, who leads the team with 34 goals but is also struggling to find the net. "I really don't have an answer."

A week ago, the Blue Jackets were in position to make a run at the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. That was before losses to Carolina, Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh -- three of the top teams in the league -- pushed Columbus into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

"Frustration is useless," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said after the 4-1 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. "There's a fine line in the NHL between being a good team and being an OK team, and right now we're flirting with that. We do it at times, but we don't do it enough, and it's disappointing."

With 106 points, the Blue Jackets would like to go on a mini-run and overtake the second-place Penguins to gain home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The teams face off starting next week.

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is just as frustrated as the players but doesn't want to show it. It would be counterproductive to get on the players who are going through offensive droughts.

"We have a good offensive team here," Tortorella said. "We just have to keep playing through it and try to find ourselves that way."

The Blue Jackets were in a much different place the last time they faced the Jets. Back in December, Columbus beat Winnipeg 5-3 for their 14th win in a row during their 16-game streak.

The Jets are the team that's streaking this time around. Their 5-2 win in St. Louis on Tuesday night was their season-high fifth consecutive victory.

Patrik Laine had two goals against the Blues to increase his team-leading total to 36. Mark Scheifele also scored a goal to reach 80 points for the first time in his career.

Winnipeg won 12 of its last 15 games. It also has Columbus' number, winning four of the past five meetings.

But it's too little, too late. The Jets will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

"It's easy to shut down when you're out of playoff contention," Wheeler said. "But we have a group of really solid guys who still come to the rink every day excited about their jobs."

With nothing at stake, the Jets have an opportunity to test some of their young prospects. And they will give two players their first NHL starts against the Blue Jackets.

Columbus native Jack Roslovic makes his debut, as will 21-year-old goaltender Eric Comrie. Both were recalled this week from the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

"I'm really excited," Roslovic said after Wednesday's practice in Nationwide Arena. "Being home, it makes it even better. Obviously, my NHL debut, it's going to be fun."

Copyright 2017 by Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Team Standings W L OT Pts L 10
Winnipeg1st Central 45264946-4-0
Columbus5th Metropolitan 40304844-5-1

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