Oliver Bjorkstrand blew past Winnipeg Jets defender Dmitry Kulikov as if he wasn’t even there. And by tossing off Kulikov’s attempt at a bodycheck, Bjorkstrand was able to steal a game for the Columbus Blue Jackets
Bjorkstrand made Kulikov looked weak and then walked in unchecked to beat Laurent Brossoit with a shot to the top corner to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 win over the visiting Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night. It was a beautiful goal, but it a left a bitter taste in the mouths of a Jets team who let another winnable game slip away.
And with the loss, the Jets fourth in a row, no team in the NHL needs the All-Star break more.
Once a legitimate contender for a playoff spot, the struggling Jets will need a virtual miracle after this weekend’s All-Star holiday in order to make it to the post season. Winnipeg has lost four straight games — 7-1 to Tampa at home and then 5-2 in Chicago, 4-1 in Carolina and 4-3 on Wednesday night in Columbus — and six of their last seven. They now have 54 points and are three points shy of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
However, the Jets struggles aren’t necessarily recent.
Winnipeg was riding high in early December and then cruised into Detroit to play the lowly Red Wings on Dec. 12. That night they lost a lacklustre effort, 5-2 to Detroit, and they haven’t been very good since. Including that loss they are 6-12-2 in their last 20 games and have fallen from a comfortable third in the Central to a shaky ninth in the West.
On Wednesday night against red-hot Columbus, the team with the best record in hockey over its last 20 games, the Jets played a very good hockey game but still couldn’t find a way to salvage even a point.
Winnipeg opened the scoring at 4:38 of the first period when Mason Appleton banged home a loose puck in front to tally his second of the season, but Columbus came back just 88 seconds later when Seth Jones went hard to the net and beat Brossoit for his fifth of the year.
Still, the Jets came out of the first period with a 2-1 lead when Kyle Connor tipped home an Anthony Bitetto shot at 17:06. It was Connor’s team-high 25th of the year.
At 1:28 of the second period, Bjorkstrand scored his first of two to tie the game at 2-2, but Neal Pionk gave the Jets a 3-2 lead with his fifth of the year at 15:33. Blake Wheeler and Connor drew the assists.
However, Gustav Nyquist tied it for Columbus at 17:55 and the two teams went to the second intermission deadlocked at three apiece.
After an up-and-down third period, a period in which the Jets had a number of chances to blow the game wide open, Bjorkstrand scored the eventual winner at 14:22. The Jets defensive weaknesses were on display for the hockey world to see on that winning goal.
The Jets outshot Columbus 30-29, but won only 42 per cent of the face-offs and that often hurt them, especially in the attacking zone. Columbus outhit Winnipeg 28-24. The Jets were one-for-two on the power play while Columbus was one-for-one. Kyle Connor, with a goal and an assist, was the best Jets player on the ice.
Winnipeg now gets a much-needed break. However, when they return, their entire season could be on the line. In their first four games after the All-Star vacation, they play Boston at home on the 31st of January, St. Louis at home on the first of February, Nashville at home on Feb. 4 and then they face the Blues again, this time in St. Louis on Feb 6.
Jets fans should know by mid-February if their beloveds actually have a post-season hope.