NHL playoff picture: Battle for East's last spot goes to season's last days

An 82-game NHL season comes down to this math: Three games across two days to figure out which one team of two will claim the last spot in the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets and Canadiens have 94 points, and Columbus coach John Tortorella says he’s not surprised that everything is coming down to the regular season’s last two days.

“The ups and downs and Jekyll and Hyde that we’ve had this year, it doesn’t surprise me at all,” Tortorella said (via the Columbus Dispatch).

Both teams can look at this week and wonder, “What if …?”

The Blue Jackets lost Tuesday, opening the door for the Canadiens … who then lost Thursday.

“We’re not dead,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said (via NHL.com) in a somber Habs locker room following a 2-1 loss to the Capitals. “I think we need some help. We understand that. So we’ve got a few days here to look at what’s going to happen, and hopefully we’re still alive by (Friday) night and give ourselves a chance here to stay in the race.”

The Blue Jackets have two shots, both on the road, to get one win: Friday against the Rangers in New York and Saturday against the Senators in Ottawa.

For his part, Tortorella won’t look at Tuesday’s 6-2 home loss to the Bruins as a blowout momentum-stopper, though it snapped a five-game winning streak.

“This is a great opportunity for us, not only for what we’re talking about this season, trying to get in, but just to play in these kind of games as we build our team with some youth on it,” he said. “We shouldn’t be feeling the weight, and I don’t think we do. We’ve really played well.

“We lost a game. We won five prior to that. We just have to bounce back and enjoy the moment and take it as an opportunity.”

Meantime, the Canadiens are in the uncomfortable position of not only needing help, as Julien said, but also perhaps being eliminated from playoff contention before they take the ice for their season finale against the rival Maple Leafs.

“It’s not over yet,” Canadiens captain Shea Weber said. “We’ll see what happens in [the Blue Jackets’] next two games, and if we can win Saturday and for whatever reason get some good fate, we’ll be in. And if not, we’ll discuss it after that.”

On paper, the Dispatch notes, the schedule looks favorable to the Jackets. They’ve been better on the road this season, and they’re playing opponents who’ve long been out of the playoff chase.

Montreal, meanwhile, faces a Maple Leafs team that already has clinched an Eastern Conference playoff berth and would like nothing better than to send the Canadiens home for the offseason.

That’s the finality that one team is facing, perhaps as early as Friday night.

“We’re at this point now,” the Jackets’ Oliver Bjorkstrand said. “We have to have fun with it. We’re not out, but we’re not in yet. We’re still fighting to get into the playoffs. We still believe in our group. Now we just have to get the job done. That’s our mindset. We don’t want this to be our last practice.”