Blue Jackets, Red Wings secure final NHL East playoff spots
Columbus qualifies for 2nd time in franchise history, Detroit for 23rd straight year
Jussi Jokinen scored in regulation and then got the game-winner in the shootout, lifting the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-3 victory over the playoff-bound Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.
Columbus will also compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs for only the second time after defeating the hometown Dallas Stars 3-1.
Detroit, which is headed to the post-season for a 23rd consecutive season, received goals from Tomas Jurco, Jakub Kindl and Riley Sheahan.
Sheahan forced overtime and put the Red Wings in the playoffs when he scored his seventh of the year with 1:15 remaining in the third.
Jurco put the Red Wings ahead with his eighth at 10:41 of the first period.
Detroit, like Pittsburgh, has endured injuries throughout the season, as the Red Wings are still without captain Henrik Zetterberg, who is recovering from back surgery. Top-pairing defenceman Jonathan Ericsson (finger), Daniel Cleary (knee) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) also remain out.
Zetterberg, who could begin skating next week, likely won't be ready for the first game of the post-season, though he could return at some point during the first round.
That first-round matchup could come against the Penguins, a potential meeting that would pair the teams together for the third time since 2008, the first of back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup finals for both clubs.
Pittsburgh, locked into the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed, welcomed several stars back to the lineup, including captain Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Brooks Orpik, and Olli Maatta, who all missed Sunday's shootout win at Colorado.
The most significant return came on the blue-line with Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, which got defenceman Kris Letang back for the first time since he suffered a stroke 10 weeks ago.
Letang hadn't played since Jan. 27, two days before suffering a frightening stroke that threatened his 2013 season. Doctors have not pinpointed the cause of the stroke, but tests revealed a small hole in his heart, which hasn't been repaired and may have played a factor.
Letang has been taken off blood-thinner medication, but his condition will be monitored. Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero and Letang said they are confident the 2013 Norris Trophy finalist is not putting himself at greater risk by playing.
Letang, welcomed back to the lineup with a loud ovation from the sellout crowd, was cleared by doctors several weeks ago and convinced Shero he was OK during a series of conversations while traveling with the team on a road trip last week.
"I had a lot of fun," Letang said. "It wasn't perfect for me, but I was just happy to be on the ice. Obviously it's something I missed a lot."
In Dallas, Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu added goals to the one Columbus already had when the makeup game started.
The Blue Jackets had a 1-0 lead when the puck dropped because that was the score March 10, the night the original game was postponed after Dallas forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench because of an irregular heartbeat.
The Blue Jackets set a franchise record with 42 wins, beating the previous mark from their only other playoff season in 2008-09.
"It's been a long time," said winger Jared Boll, one of the few players remaining from the Blue Jackets' last playoff squad. "It's just the first step. We've still got a long way to go."
Columbus was swept by Detroit in the first round five years ago, and now those teams are in a battle for playoff position in their first season since being moved to the Eastern Conference.
"It's fun right now to say we clinched, but we can't be satisfied with just getting in," said Boll, who missed four months with a torn ankle tendon. "We want to get there and make a splash."
The Stars scored when they pulled goalie Tim Thomas for a 6-on-4 power play with 13 minutes left in the game. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made a sprawling save before Trevor Daley punched in a rebound in a crowd in front of the net.
The Stars never really gave themselves a chance to build a cushion on Phoenix for the final playoff berth in the West. Dallas (89 points) has a two-point lead over the Coyotes, who have three games left to two for the Stars.
Dallas trailed 3-0 after the first and couldn't capitalize on power plays with fresh ice at the start of the second and third periods against Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 17 of 18 shots in the third period and 33 of 34 overall.