NEWARK, N.J. — Making the playoffs for the third time in franchise history is just the first step for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There’s much more serious work ahead for coach John Tortorella and his team in the next few weeks: making a run at the Stanley Cup.
Lukas Sedlak and Brandon Dubinsky scored on penalty shots and the Blue Jackets returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 with a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday, March 19.
There was some laughter heard outside the Blue Jackets’ locker room before it opened and Tortorella said he wanted his players to enjoy the night. Then it’s back to work.
“It gives us an opportunity to talk about it,” Tortorella said of clinching. “We are in. To me, it’s the start of a road. You work that hard throughout the year, the amount of games you have to play; it gives you an opportunity to start your journey that you want to be on.”
The win was the fourth straight for the Blue Jackets, gave them their first 100-point season and moved them into a tie with Washington for the NHL’s best record with 11 games left.
“It’s tight,” Dubinsky said of the standings. “We’re going to just keep pushing and keep looking up. The sky’s the limit. We’ll see how far we can get.”
This game was also one for the record book.
This was only the third time in NHL history that a team scored twice in a game on penalty shots. Thomas Gradin and Ivan Hlinka of Vancouver did it against Detroit in 1982, and Ryane Clowe and Joe Thornton of San Jose converted against Washington in 2009.
Boone Jenner added two goals, one short-handed and the other into an empty net. Sergei Bobrovsky made 35 saves for Columbus, which is 12-3-1 in its last 16 games.
Adam Henrique scored for the Devils, whose season is all but over after falling to 1-10-2 in its last 13.
“Whatever the situation arises you have to find a way to overcome them and we didn’t,” Devils coach John Hynes said.
Columbus, which was playing its second game in as many days, jumped to a 2-0 lead with a pair of short-handed goals on the Devils’ first two power plays.
Sedlak, who was in the lineup because Alexander Wennberg was hurt on Saturday against the Islanders, was taken down by Devils defenseman Andy Greene on a breakaway a minute after Josh Anderson was sent off for tripping.
On his penalty shot, Sedlak skated to the edge of the right circle, cut toward the middle and beat Cory Schneider with a low shot to the left corner for his seventh goal.
With Matt Calvert off for tripping, Jenner outworked three Devils behind the net to gain control of the puck and eventually knocked the rebound of Jack Johnson’s shot off Schneider at 10:23 for his 15th goal.
Henrique got the Devils back into the game just seven seconds later, breaking in after taking a pass from Pavel Zacha and sliding the puck between the legs of Bobrovsky.
Dubinsky converted the second penalty shot at 6:28 of the second period after Anderson was taken down on a breakaway by Dalton Prout. Anderson was hurt on the play and there was some confusion about who would take the shot.
Tortorella initially sent out Sam Gagner to take it, but the officials ruled that he was not on the ice at the time of the penalty. Dubinsky took it, beating Schneider high to the left corner with a move similar to the one by Sedlak.
“It doesn’t matter who is out there for me. I have to find a way to make a save,” Schneider said. “It doesn’t matter if it Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky. It’s up to me to come up with a save against whoever is out there.”