Bumbling Blue Jackets close two-game series with Lightning

Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets will try to avoid matching their longest winless streak in franchise history when they play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the finale of a six-game road trip on Sunday night.

The Blue Jackets are winless in their past eight games (0-7-1), most recently falling to the Lightning 3-1 on Thursday.

The longest winless streak in team history is nine games, occurring most recently in December 2009 when they went 0-7-2.

“We’re not going to the playoffs, so it’s not going to change anything but, still, it’s just embarrassing for us and our organization,” Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins said. “That’s the bad part.”

Columbus (15-25-9, 39 points) has struggled to find its footing all season.

The Blue Jackets haven’t won more than two games in a row, and their current losing streak was preceded by a stretch in which they lost seven of nine. Columbus has earned three points in the month of April.

Merzlikins is worried the Blue Jackets might end up in a rut the size of the one that enveloped the Buffalo Sabres, who went 18 straight games without a victory from late February to late March, the longest winless stretch in the NHL since the Pittsburgh Penguins went 0-17-1 during the 2003-04 season.

The Sabres have gone 7-5-2 since.

“I don’t want to get to that point like Buffalo,” Merzlikins said. “Even for them, it was hard, but they got somehow through. They got that win, and we have to find that way, too.”

The Lightning (31-14-2, 64 points) continue to be in a three-way race with the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes for the top three spots in the Central Division.

Tampa Bay hasn’t reeled off three straight wins in a month, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

Most recently, Ondrej Palat scored against the Blue Jackets on Thursday to give him 13 goals on the season and end a 13-game goalless drought.

“He’s a big part of our team,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of Palat. “He expects a lot from himself and he’s such a warrior for us. He’s been for almost a decade now. The guy plays the right way, and you get rewarded for it, and (Palat) is a workhorse.”

Cooper isn’t taking anything for granted heading into the final meeting against Columbus, however.

The Blue Jackets have won three of the seven meetings against the Lightning this season, and one goal separates both teams.

“(Columbus coach John Tortorella) has been in the league a long time. He’s a hell of a coach,” Cooper said. “A lot of guys, regulars, are out of his lineup and he’s got the guys fighting hard, so they’re a tough team to play against. They defend, and you can see it was hard to score on Thursday (night) for us.”

The drain of a long losing streak will be weighing heavily on the Blue Jackets on Sunday. They know they have seven games remaining to turn things around and head into the offseason on a positive note.

“I’m tired of losing the games,” Merzlikins said. “It’s painful, sitting in that locker room, and trust me we are trying. We seriously are trying. … I just want to finish and delete this year and not think about it.”

–Field Level Media

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