Artemi Panarin scored the only goal in the shootout Friday night for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who clinched the last open NHL playoff spot by edging the host New York Rangers, 3-2.
With their sixth win in the last seven games, the Blue Jackets (46-31-4, 96 points) assured themselves of one of the wild-card berths in the Eastern Conference and eliminated the Montreal Canadiens (94 points) from contention.
The Blue Jackets are headed to the playoffs for the third straight season after making the postseason just twice in their first 15 seasons. They will enter the final day of the season as the second wild card, but they would move up to the first wild card if they beat the Ottawa Senators and the Carolina Hurricanes lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
The difference between the first and second wild card? The first would face a familiar foe in the Metropolitan Division-winning Washington Capitals, who enter Saturday’s season finale with 104 points. The second wild-card team would be relegated to the Atlantic Division portion of the bracket and face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, whose 126 points entering Saturday are the most by an NHL team since the Detroit Red Wings collected 131 points during the 1995-96 season.
Panarin’s shootout tally capped an evening of roller-coaster emotions for the Blue Jackets, who trailed 1-0 after two before tying the game and going ahead in a span of a little more than 12 minutes in the third period on goals by Ryan Dzingel and Panarin.
The Blue Jackets were moments away from clinching when the Rangers, who pulled goalie Alexandar Georgiev with under two minutes remaining, tied the game with seven seconds left, as Pavel Buchnevich put home a rebound following a flurry in the crease. Columbus then outshot New York 6-1 in overtime but could not produce the game-winner.
Neither team scored in the shootout until Panarin beat Georgiev on the Blue Jackets’ third shot. Sergei Bobrovsky then turned back Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo to finally set off the Columbus celebration.
Bobrovsky collected 26 saves.
Chris Kreider scored 1:47 into the contest for the Rangers (31-36-14, 76 points), who dropped their home finale as they lost for the third straight time and the 10th time in 13 games (3-9-1). Georgiev recorded 39 saves.