Off The Schneid — In Spectacular Fashion

The Columbus Blue Jackets came into the National Hockey League in the 2000-01 season.  In the 19 years since, the team has made the playoffs several times, but it has never won a single playoff series, and every year, dedicated Blue Jackets fans have gone home disappointed.

fans_celebrate_columbus_blue_jackets_swe_9_82832195_ver1.0_1280_720Until now.  This year, the Blue Jackets and their fans are off the schneid — and in spectacular fashion, too.

The Blue Jackets made the playoffs on the last weekend of the regular season.  As the eighth seed, they had to face the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning, which had tied the NHL record for the number of wins in a season, racked up an absurd number of points, and led the NHL in virtually every statistical category.  Tampa Bay was a prohibitive favorite in the series, and no one outside of the hopeful Columbus fan base gave the Blue Jackets much of a chance.

And yet, the CBJ won.  And they not only won, they did so in dominant fashion, sweeping the Lightning and capping off their triumph with a 7-3 win last night.  The fact that the Blue Jackets beat the Lightning at all is extraordinary — the Lightning were the biggest favorites to lose a playoff series since 2010 — but the fact that the CBJ won in a sweep is historic.  Tampa Bay is the first team in the NHL’s expansion era to get swept in the first round of the playoffs after leading the league in points during the regular season.  That means the Blue Jackets have done something no team has done in more than 50 years.

I’m thrilled for the Blue Jackets, for their fans who get to savor the taste of a playoff series win, and also for Columbus itself, which will enjoy some of the fun and excitement and craziness as the NHL playoffs move forward and the city’s home team advances.  The CBJ will play the winner of the Boston-Toronto series in the next round.

March on, CBJ!

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The Backyard Wakes Up

Yesterday I enjoyed some outside time in our backyard.  It was a tolerably warm day before the rains and winds came, and I wanted to enjoy that point in the year where colors have reemerged after winter’s drabness and you can breathe deep of the heady scent of growing things.  Why, there is yellow back there, and green, and even a white flowering tree.  After months of slumber beneath blankets of snow, and rain, and frost, our little backyard is finally waking up.

Spring always seems to be the shortest of the four seasons, with winter hanging on much longer than it should at one end and summer’s heat eager to entrench upon the other.  That just makes it even more essential to get out and savor it while it lasts.

Let’s Go, CBJ!

The National Hockey League playoffs are underway.  The Columbus Blue Jackets had an up-and-down season and were one of the last teams to clinch a playoff spot.  Their reward was to draw the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.  The Lightning had a record-setting season that saw them lose only 16 games, and in their playoff match-up with the CBJ they are prohibitive favorites.

hi-res-51cdc32831e0d855c06d86564e0f71ab_crop_northPlaying at home in the first game of the playoff series last night, the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, making the prognostications of a four-game sweep look solid.  But somehow, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made some improbable saves, the Blue Jackets kept their poise and started chipping away at the lead, and thanks to a three-goal third period and a last-minute power play score the CBJ — improbably — pulled out a victory on the road.

One road victory does not a series win make — as the Jackets learned last year, even two road wins doesn’t do that — but last night’s win allows CBJ fans to dream of an upset and has to give the team a shot of confidence.  Speaking for the city of Columbus, it would be nice to see the Blue Jackets, who have never won a playoff series in their history, advance to the second round.  For now, though, we’ll just settle for the general aura of good feeling that descends upon a town when its team gets a big win.  I expect there will be a lot of happy faces around downtown Columbus today.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXV)

At any given moment, there’s always a hot restaurant in town.  It’s the place that has gotten some favorable press, that has a certain distinctive buzz about it, that everyone is itching to try.  In Columbus, the restaurants don’t come any hotter than Service Bar, which has been getting great press — including a recent rave from no less than the New York Times.  Last week, Kish and I decided to check it out.

Service Bar is part of Middle West Spirits, located just off Fifth Avenue in the zone between the northern part of the Short North and the southern edge of the Ohio State campus area. It’s in a bright, fresh space, with room for a row of tables, a long common table, a private dining room, and a bar.  The wait staff is terrific — friendly, professional, and knowledgeable.  A fine wait staff is a pretty strong sign of fine dining to come.

When we were deciding on an appetizer, we looked down at the row of tables where we were sitting and every one — without exception — had ordered the “cheesy poofs.”  These are a mound of colossal pork rinds served with pimento cheese spread that you slather on.  Our waiter said they seem to be a favorite for patrons, so we gave them a try.  They were greasy and cheesy and good, but the order was just too much food for the two of us, and we wanted to save room for our entrees.

We both ordered the Mongolian glazed short rib for our entree, and here the meal really hit its stride.  The short rib was meaty and luscious, topped with an interesting assortment of mini cucumber slices and other items, and surrounded by dollops of a delectable sauce.  The challenge was to carefully assemble each forkful to feature meat, the different flavors and textures of the toppings, and a healthy dousing of the sauce, and when you successfully met the challenge the taste combination was incredible.  But to take the whole dish a step further, the meat was accompanied by three “bao knots” — moist, doughy, chewy morsels of bready delight that were a perfect complement to the meat.  I think I could probably eat a thousand bao knots and never think of the words “low carb” again.

After a main course like that, we had to get dessert, and went for the carrot cake with our after-dinner cup of decaf.  The cake was light and delectable, served with a schmeer of meringue, some crunchy items, and a delicately flavored ice cream.  It ended the meal with a bang, and was the kind of dessert where you find yourself surreptitiously scraping the plate multiple times just to get a final taste before you reluctantly allow your server to take it away.

Service Bar lived up to the hype, and then some.

Colorful Kegling

Russell was in town for the weekend, and at his request on Sunday we went bowling at the HP (for “high performance”) Lanes Bowling Center off Cleveland Avenue.  Knocking down the pins was fun, as always, but our little taste of modern bowling made me realize how dramatically the bowling experience has changed since I was a kid.

Our bowling alley in those days in the ’60s was the legendary Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio. It was a place for people who were serious about bowling.  The bowling balls were all black — the only nod to color appeared on the 6-pound balls for little kids, which had red and blue triangles on them — and the only noise was the balls rolling down the alley and scattering the pins.  To complete the somewhat somber, focused atmosphere, against one wall there was a huge photograph of President Nixon, with an intense look on his face as he began his approach to the foul line, bearing the title “Our Bowling President.”  It helped to lock in the belief of most of the keglers that bowling was the all-American sport.

HP Lanes is . . . different.  For one thing, the “house balls” are as colorful as Easter eggs.  The area above the pins is a riotous, Mardi Gras-like study in pastels, and there was rock music playing at a pretty healthy volume.  There wasn’t any photo of a bowling president around, either.  The only link to the bowling days of yore was the color of the lanes, the ball delivery system, and the American flag.

For Whom The Clock Tower Bongs

More than two years ago, the clock tower of St. Mary Catholic Church, located less than a block from our house, was struck by lightning.  It was apparently a massive lightning strike, because it not only froze the hands of the clock, it also affected the structure of the roof and the church itself — necessitating the closure of the church building and large-scale renovation work to repair the damage and allow the church building to reopen to parishioners.

220px-saint_mary_of_the_assumption_catholic_church_28c-bus2c_oh292c_exterior2c_springtime_2We’ve been following the reconstruction work with interest, because St. Mary is our neighbor and a key part of the German Village community.  At first, progress was slow, as money was raised and plans were developed, but then a construction crew moved on site and the pace of work accelerated.  Most recently, we saw the crew working on repouring and reconfiguring the outside entrance steps and then repairing the sidewalks outside the church — which indicated that the crews had completed the difficult interior roof and structure work and were getting close to finishing up and putting the church into a position to reopen.

Last week Kish and I were sitting outside, enjoying a night were the temperature had skyrocketed to the low 60s, when I heard the deep bonging of the St. Mary clock tower bell for the first time in a long, long time.  Of course, that meant that the clock in the clock tower had been repaired and was once again telling the correct time.  It was a welcome sound, indeed — indicating that our neighborhood was whole again.

Welcome back, St. Mary!