NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Instead of looking at possible first-round playoff opponents, the New Jersey Devils are focusing on finishing the NHL regular season on a roll.
That's exactly what they did Thursday night, as Jack Hughes scored two goals and set up two by Timo Meier in an 8-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team's biggest offensive output in more than four years.
“We have three more games before the playoffs start and we want to be perfect and ready to go,” Meier said after scoring his 39th and 40th goals of the season.
Tomas Tatar, Erik Haula, Damon Severson and Ryan Graves also scored as the Devils earned their 50th win of the season, one off tying the franchise record set in 2008-09. Vitek Vanecek made 16 saves in his 32nd win and the Devils' third in three meetings with Columbus this season.
The Devils' franchise record is nine goals in a game.
Finnish rookie Joona Luoto scored his first NHL goal for injury-riddled Columbus, which is in contention for the league's worst record (24-26-8) this season with Chicago and Anaheim. Blue Jackets starting goaltender Michael Hutchinson gave up five goals on 24 shots before being lifted in the third period.
The Devils won the game with their special teams, killing off all five Columbus power plays while scoring twice with the man-advantage (Hughes, Meier) and once short-handed (Severson).
Hughes gave New Jersey the lead for good, scoring an unassisted goal nine seconds after New Jersey killed off a Michael McLeod penalty. It was his 41st of the season and his 200th career point.
“It's fun to watch him play,” Tatar said. “He's such a tremendous talent and plays so fast and with such skills. Hockey seems so easy to him.”
For the past few weeks, it seemed the Devils would face the rival Rangers in the first round of the postseason. However, the win pulled New Jersey within a point of first-place Carolina (109 points) in the Metropolitan Division. The Hurricanes, who have four games left, were beaten 3-0 by Nashville on Thursday.
“I think a lot of guys would be really excited to play the Rangers,” Hughes said. “We can’t really control that. We got three more hockey games and we’d like to win them all.”
Tatar, Hughes and Meier pushed the lead to 4-1 after two periods and New Jersey piled on four more in the third period.
“For us, not a lot of positives in that one,” said Columbus forward Sean Kuraly, who had the primary assist on Luoto's goal. “We have guys in here we think are capable. That’s disappointing. They’re a good team and this league is full of them. You can’t take nights off in this league. You can’t take shifts off.”
Blue Jackets leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau left the game after three shifts in the first period because of illness.
“He’s dealing with an illness," Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “He couldn’t get through that. He’s a big part of our team."
NOTEBOOK: The Boqvist brothers, Jesper of the Devils and Adam of the Blue Jackets, were in the starting lineups for the opening faceoff. ... Devils D Jonas Siegenthaler didn't play for two second time this season. Coach Lindy Ruff said he just wanted to get fellow D Brandan Smith into a game ... Graves played in his 300th NHL game. Devils D John Marino had a career-high three assists, all in the third period.
Both teams had a goal waved off in the first period. Tartar scored with 12:10 left in the period on a shot from the inside of the left circle. Larsen challenged, saying the play was offside, and Tartar was. ... Josh Dunne was stopped on a breakaway by Vanecek with 5:03 left in the period. His momemtum carried him into the goaltender and the puck crossed the goal line after the net came odd its moorings.
Blue Jackets: Return home to face the New York Rangers on Saturday.
Devils: At Boston on Saturday night.
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