The Columbus Blue Jackets look at their last nine regular-season games as a nightly playoff matchup.
Even after Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Columbus Blue Jackets remained in the first of two wildcard spots in the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But with only nine games remaining in the regular season, the Blue Jackets are already in playoff mode.
The reason why?
Heading into tonight's game at the Carolina Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets have 80 points, the same amount the Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs have attained in their games this season.
"We need to win," defenseman Jack Johnson told Fox Sports Ohio after Friday's loss. "We're running out of games, and everyone's in a tight race here. Each game becomes more and more important as the season goes on, and that's just the nature of it every year.
"The more stressful the situation becomes, the more you have to pull together. Everyone wants the same goal, and everybody's pulling in the same direction."
Friday's game against the Penguins had a playoff feel to it, as both teams brought a physicality to the ice and registered a combined 67 hits and 30 penalty minutes.
"We're a good hockey team too," Johnson said. "We're not going to get pushed around. We've got a lot of big, strong guys, and it's the NHL. I don't think any team's really going to get pushed around."
Goaltender Curtis McElhinney added, "It's nice to see. It's playoff hockey. It's tight hockey. The power plays weren't really clicking for either team. All of the other stuff, I thought the guys were doing great. It's just a matter of finding a way to kind of flip those pucks over the goalie and bear through.
"It was fun to be a part of it. It's fun when guys are coming to the net, getting in there and digging a little bit. It amps up your energy level a little bit, so it's exciting and we need to do it ourselves."
Should the Blue Jackets hang on to their spot in the postseason, Friday's game could be a preview of their first-round series. If the standings remain the same, they would play the Penguins in the first round.
Despite being 0-5 against the Penguins this season, getting another shot at an elite team is something the Blue Jackets look forward to seeing.
"It hurts, but this could maybe be a playoff matchup when we make it in," defenseman James Wisniewski said. "Maybe we could get the confidence then and it could happen in the playoffs. We've hung with them, except for one game where they kind of took it to us.
"Other than that, it's pretty much been pretty close games, one-goal games. Unfortunately, we just haven't played the kind of hockey that we want to play against them. You have to hand it to him. They're obviously a great team. They won a Stanley Cup three or four years ago, but we'll put it behind us and worry about tomorrow."