It’s an exciting time for the Ottawa Senators and their fans right now.
Following a 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night, the Senators (32-26-4) sit three points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins (31-21-9) — who lost 4-1 earlier in the evening to the Florida Panthers — for the final wild-card berth in the NHL's Eastern Conference.
Late in the third period fans at the Canadian Tire Centre started chanting “we want playoffs.” For a fan base that hasn’t had a team anywhere near contention since 2017, this is an exciting time.
“It kind of gave me chills, to be honest,” said Tim Stutzle, who scored a pair of goals. “It was so loud and it was awesome. We’re playing great right now and hope to keep it going.”
It was also a warm welcome for Jakob Chychrun, who was acquired from Arizona in a Wednesday trade to help solidify Ottawa’s blue line. The 24-year-old had a goal and an assist in his home debut.
Fans were loud when Chychrun took his first shift and late in the third he was shown on the big screen and raised his arm sending the crowd into a frenzy.
“That was fun,” admitted Chychrun. “I don’t know what made me do that, just spur of the moment, but the crowd got me going so that’s what it’s all about, I think, is just having fun.
"They were really into it tonight so it was a blast out there.”
Ottawa’s blue line led the way on this night as Travis Hamonic, also scored a pair of goals, and Cam Talbot made 18 saves.
Hamonic isn’t quite known for his offensive abilities, but there was no denying his teammates happiness for his success.
“Boys had some fun with it for sure,” Hamonic said. “It’s not every night you score a couple in a game, but I think the important part is that we won.”
The Blue Jackets were coming off a 4-2 loss to the Seattle Kraken and never seemed to be able to keep up with the Senators.
Jack Roslovic and Patrick Laine scored for Columbus (20-37-6). Elvis Merzlikins was pulled after allowing four goals on 23 shots. Michael Hutchinson stopped 17 shots in relief.
“We talked about it before the game, that they were going to come hard, and I have no clue how we were still surprised how hard they came, especially in the beginning,” said Laine.
“And they kept coming at us the whole game. We were just sleeping, just sleeping for 60 minutes.”
Ottawa is riding a five-game winning streak, its first since March 2017, and were in control from start to finish on this night.
“We did a lot of really good things,” said Senators coach D.J. Smith. “I thought five-on-five we grinded, held on to the puck a lot longer. They played last night so they weren’t as sharp, but they worked right to the end.”
The teams exchanged goals 18 seconds apart to open the scoring in the first.
Hamonic beat Merzlikins with a shot from the top of the faceoff circle, but Columbus tied it moments later when Roslovic took advantage of a turnover along the boards and fired a wrister that beat Talbot.
Ottawa took the lead on Stutzle’s 30th of the season, scoring from in close.
“It feels pretty good,” said Stutzle of hitting the milestone. “Especially in my first couple years I didn’t finish that well so it feels pretty good and right now I’m really confident in the way I play.
"But in the end the most important is to get as many wins as we can and it feels good If I can contribute to those wins.”
Ottawa extended its lead in the second to 4-2 and were outshooting Columbus 29-11. Hamonic, playing in his 780th career game, scored his second of the night early in the second to record his first multi-goal game.
Chychrun then scored his first as a Senator taking a pass from Erik Brannstrom and fired a wrister past Merzlikins, putting an end to his night.
Hutchinson, acquired Thursday from Vegas, came in making his debut with the Blue Jackets.
Columbus managed to cut the lead in half with Laine’s power-play goal midway through the period, but there was no denying they were being outplayed.
“You knew they were coming,” said Columbus head coach Brad Larsen. “There was no secret. They’re excited to play right now. They’re in a playoff hunt.
"They’ve been playing a real good brand of hockey for a while. We were very aware of what was coming, just didn’t handle it very well.”
Stutzle scored his second of the night on a short-handed breakaway after Nick Blankenburg lost a skate blade.
The Senators play their next five on the road starting Tuesday in Chicago, while Columbus heads to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins Tuesday night.