NHL’s Hottest Team is… Columbus?

For the 12th time in their 14-year history, the Columbus Blue Jackets will not be appearing in the NHL playoffs. But these Jackets aren’t ready to be put away for the summer just yet. After winning nine straight games heading into Monday’s matchup against the Rangers, they’re the hottest team in the league right now. And with only three games remaining after that in the regular season, this week is your last chance to jump on the bandwagon.

This isn’t just a random run of good fortune for the Blue Jackets (39-35-4, minus-11.79 units ATS). Their hot streak coincides with the return of top netminder Sergei Bobrovsky (.916 save percentage, 9.6 Goalie Point Shares), who missed five weeks of action with a groin injury. The 2012-2013 Vezina Trophy winner has a personal record of 28-17-2 this year; his understudy, Curtis McElhinney (.913 SV%, 5.3 GPS), is 11-14-2. That’s the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

In Bob We Trust

If you looked just at their save percentages, you might think there isn’t all that much difference between the two goalies. However, Bobrovksy has provided 23 Quality Starts in 44 opportunities (52.3%) for Columbus, compared to 13 Quality Starts out of 27 by McElhinney (48.1%). Chalk it up to a combination of injuries and variance.

Bobrovksy does have a tendency to blow up from time to time. Back in November, he had a five-game slump where Columbus was outscored 22-7, including a pair of 5-0 shutouts at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings (–100 away) and the Vancouver Canucks (–125 away). However, that was just after Bobrovsky had returned from a broken finger. There have been other rough outings for Bobrovsky this year, but the good days outweigh the bad.

Hats Off

It’s always easier for a goaltender to do his job when his teammates are scoring. The Blue Jackets only rank No. 17 in the league at 2.71 goals per game on the season, but during this nine-game winning streak, they’ve outscored the opposition 39-22. Nick Foligno (30 goals, 40 assists, 9.3 Points Shares), Scott Hartnell (26 goals, 30 assists, 6.9 PS) and Cam Atkinson (20 goals, 18 assists, 4.2 PS) each put up a hat trick along the way. As we go to press, Hartnell is tied for fourth in the league with 16 goals since the All-Star break. Foligno and Atkinson are tied at No. 19 with 12 goals apiece.

The Rangers (42-36, plus-13.20 units ATS) are on a three-game winning streak of their own – so much for Henrik Lundqvist’s brief spell of ring rust. They’re -210 on the moneyline against Columbus (+175). The Blue Jackets might have some trouble extending their run to 10 victories Monday night at the Garden. But there’s always the over, which is 7-1-1 for Columbus during these past nine games, and 6-1-2 for New York over the same span. The number is set at 5.5 as we go to press. Don’t overlook those other three Jackets games, either. The lines should be soft as the betting public turns its attention to the playoffs.

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