What could have been a potentially historic regular-season game between the red-hot Blue Jackets and the Rangers on Saturday is now simply another scrap between two of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division in Columbus.
The Washington Capitals halted the remarkable march by John Tortorella’s young team at 16 straight wins on Thursday with a home victory, the first loss for the Jackets since Nov. 26.
Columbus, which entered the NHL in 2000-01, hadn’t lost since a 2-1 shootout with the Florida Panthers on Nov. 26.
The Rangers haven’t come close to stringing together a similar winning streak, although they are 27-13-1 and in third place in the Metro. They have won a league-high 14 road games and won seven of their last 10 overall.
But the Blue Jackets, who have garnered enormous attention both locally and nationally for the streak, have four games in hand at about the midway mark of the season, and are making it tough for the Rangers to gain ground.
In their only meeting so far, on Nov. 18, Matt Calvert, who needed 30 stitches in his forehead after being struck by Rangers defenseman Nick Holden’s shot earlier in the game, scored shorthanded halfway through the third period to snap a 2-2 tie in an eventual 4-2 victory at Nationwide.
Rangers coaches and players, including a group who played under Tortorella, such as former Blue Jacket captain Rick Nash, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, captain Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller and Henrik Lundqvist, had Thursday off, and on Wednesday were reluctant to look past the Flyers, whom they beat 5-2 in Philadelphia.
“We’ll watching the game (Thursday) and wait and see,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “It should be a good hockey game.”
It is unclear whether Nash, the leading scorer in Jackets history who was traded to the Rangers in July 2012, will dress due to a groin injury, but he said as far back as last week that he was targeting a return before the NHL-mandated five-day break that begins Sunday for the Rangers.
Nash, who has missed the last seven games, has been skating and will practice hard Friday before the team leaves to determine if he is ready to play and reduce the risk of re-injury.
No matter the outcome, the teams square off three more times, twice at Madison Square Garden, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 26, and back in Columbus on Feb. 13.