COLUMBUS, Ohio — Try as the Columbus Blue Jackets might, they just can’t seem to create a sustained surge to propel them toward locking down a playoff berth.
The Chicago Blackhawks also need to make a strong run to have any hopes of reaching the postseason.
The two teams with similar needs desperately want a win on Saturday night when they meet at Nationwide Arena for the only time this season.
The Blue Jackets (30-26-5) rediscovered their offensive attack two weeks ago in three straight games when they took at least 50 shots on goal but since then have fallen back into a familiar pattern of struggling to score goals.
That was the case Wednesday night when the Blue Jackets blew a 1-0 lead in the third period and lost 2-1 on the road to the Philadelphia Flyers, one of the teams that is leaving Columbus behind in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
The lone goal came from winger Artemi Panarin, whose rising shot in the second period gave him 200 career points in the NHL.
“I don’t know if frustrated is the right word for us right now in here,” Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said. “We’re just trying to find solutions right now. We’re not sitting here being frustrated. We’re trying to figure it out and find solutions.”
Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky must be somewhat frustrated with what he’s seeing in front of him. He has given up two goals or fewer in five of the last six games (2.00 goals-against average, .927 save percentage) and yet Columbus has gone 3-2-1.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Blue Jackets winger Matt Calvert said. “We just can’t find the rhythm. Even when we were pumping 50 shots at the net for those few games there, we were playing a different style of hockey team.”
The Blue Jackets are hovering around the playoff line. They were tied for the second wild-card spot in the East with the New York Islanders entering play Saturday. A cluster of division opponents are fighting it out.
Not only are the Blue Jackets struggling with consistency, but captain Nick Foligno and defenseman Markus Hannikainen went on the injured list this week. Replacing them are defenseman Taylor Chorney, brought in off waivers from the Washington Capitals, and Nathan Gerbe, a forward with some NHL experience who was called up from Cleveland of the American Hockey League.
“You try to go just small steps at a time,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “You hope you see more cohesion, as far as your aggressiveness. That’s the problem.”
The Blackhawks (27-27-8) are in the same boat, but they’ll have to row even faster than the Blue Jackets to get back into playoff contention.
Chicago is showing signs of coming back to life after starting February with eight consecutive losses. The Blackhawks have won three of their last four, including a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Friday night to close out a homestand.
“We finished up the homestand in a pretty good way,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a good game (Friday night) in a lot of ways.”
With 62 points, the Blackhawks are last in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference.
“We need every point that we can get at this point,” Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane said. “There’s still belief in this locker room. Obviously, we have to go on a run and have a big record down the stretch, but we’ll take it a game at a time.”
In Friday’s win over the Sharks, defenseman Jan Rutta scored a goal in his return from injured reserve, Nick Schmaltz added a goal on his 22nd birthday, and goaltender Jean-Francois Berube came close to a shutout while making a career-high 42 saves in his first start for the Blackhawks after being called up from the AHL.
Quenneville wouldn’t commit to a starter in goal against the Blue Jackets. Asked if Berube would get the nod after his performance, Quenneville said, “We’ll see.”
“I thought he did a great job,” Quenneville said. “He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. I thought absorbing a lot of pucks in his net with people in front of him was good.”
Former Blue Jackets goalie Anton Forsberg could get the start on the second night of a back-to-back for Chicago.
Forsberg posted his first shootout victory on Wednesday night since he played for the Blue Jackets in 2016.