A narrow loss to an Eastern Conference contender Friday night didn’t discourage the Columbus Blue Jackets, who get another chance to prove their rebuild is moving along faster than anticipated when they host another potentially elite team, the New York Rangers, on Saturday.
The Blue Jackets’ three-game winning streak ended Friday, when Conor Sheary scored the tiebreaking goal with 1:22 left to give the visiting Washington Capitals a 4-3 win.
The Rangers have been off since Monday, when they held off a furious late rally by the visiting Florida Panthers to earn a 4-3 victory.
The loss Friday dropped the Blue Jackets — whose 48 points last season were tied for the fourth fewest in the NHL — to 7-4-0 and came immediately after they swept a home-and-home set with the Colorado Avalanche, who entered the season as the consensus favorite to win the Western Conference.
Even after losing to the Capitals, the Blue Jackets are 3-2-0 against a quartet of teams — Washington and Colorado plus the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes — that made the playoffs last season.
The Blue Jackets almost earned at least one point Friday, when they overcame a 3-1 deficit in a 22-second span shortly before the midway point of the second period on goals by Sean Kuraly and Gustav Nyquist. The result was still enough to make Columbus believe it’s ready to compete with the best of the league on a nightly basis.
“Tough to see (the winning streak) end that way,” Kuraly said Friday night. “That’s a good team, and it (stinks) to come out with no points in a game where you feel like you are right there at the end. We expect our team to battle back. We’ve got what we need to play with any team.”
Kuraly produced a stunning goal, beating multiple defenders during a solo break from his own defensive zone.
“It was fun. That’s a big one,” he said postgame, according to The Athletic. “It’s just tough to see right now after it ended that way.”
The Rangers’ win over the Panthers was imperfect yet still came at a most opportune time. New York has shown flashes of brilliance during an inconsistent start to the season. After an 0-1-1 start, the Rangers went 6-1-0 in their next seven games before losing the final three games (0-1-2) of a West Coast road trip that ended Nov. 6.
Despite racing out to a 4-0 lead over the Panthers — who entered Monday with a 10-0-1 record — the Rangers were outshot 45-18 and nearly squandered the game in the third, when Florida scored twice in a span of 46 seconds in the final two minutes.
“It was no fun watching that,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “You win against an undefeated (in regulation) team, a great team, and you don’t feel good with that.
“I’ll take the two points later, but it’s not the way you’ve got to play hockey.”
Rangers center Filip Chytil, who missed Monday’s game with an upper-body injury, didn’t practice Friday and wasn’t expected to travel with the team to Columbus.
–Field Level Media