The Columbus Blue Jackets had the fewest points in the NHL when they last faced the Dallas Stars. Now they can end the Stars' playoff chances and improve their own Thursday night in Dallas.
The NHL's worst team last season with 65 points, the Blue Jackets (22-17-7) are pushing for their second postseason appearance and first since 2009 due to an impressive two-month turnaround. From a league-worst 5-12-3 following a 5-4 overtime loss to the Stars on Feb. 26, Columbus is in the final week of the regular season battling Minnesota, Detroit and Dallas for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The Blue Jackets, entering the finale of a six-game road trip, have won six of seven after a 4-3 victory at San Jose on Sunday.
"It feels like a little bit of destiny with this team," R.J. Umberger said after assisting on Ryan Johansen's game-winner with 1:37 to play. "We're just a very confident team. We feel like we are underdogs every night. We're proving people wrong. This team believes a lot and it just feels like our destiny that we're to make the playoffs. We want to make it more than anything."
The Stars (22-20-4) do too, but with four losses in five games since winning a season-best five in a row, they're on the verge of missing the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. They were tied for fifth in the West after that last matchup with Columbus but are down to 10th with two games left, including Saturday against the Red Wings.
"We have to get two more wins," coach Glen Gulutzan said after Dallas ended an 0-2-1 trip with Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Sharks.
Gulutzan's team could be officially eliminated as early as Thursday, and that's guaranteed to happen without a victory.
With their playoff fate out of their control, the Stars can only focus on winning four straight at home for the first time since the start of 2011-12.
Columbus, which has won six of eight on the road, will likely put Sergei Bobrovsky in net for the 12th straight game. He's 16-5-3 with a 1.65 goals-against average since the February loss to Dallas.
"Your goalie on any given night has to be your best player and for sure he's been our best player," forward Cam Atkinson said of Bobrovsky, who made 32 saves Sunday and had 24 in a 2-1 win over the Stars on Jan. 28.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots in that matchup and has a 1.80 GAA in 10 career starts versus Columbus. He's played well in four games since missing a week with a groin injury, posting a .921 save percentage, but Dallas has been outshot by 21 during that stretch and lost the last three by one goal.
Perhaps the return of Alex Chiasson will help the Stars avoid a season high-tying fourth consecutive defeat. The rookie forward, who has a team-high six goals since his NHL debut April 3, is closer to returning after missing the last four contests with a shoulder problem.
"Right now my injury feels pretty good," Chiasson told the team's official website Tuesday. "I've just got to focus on getting my legs and my lungs back. I haven't skated much since that Chicago game (April 15)."
Both meetings between these teams this season have been in Columbus. The Blue Jackets won their last visit to Dallas on Dec. 29, 2011, and have never won more than two straight there.